21st February: Hokkaido – Nemuro-kaikyo Strait near Rausu

Juvenile White-tailed Sea Eagle (Ojiro-washi) (left) and juvenile Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi) (right)

Before dawn we left Rausu in a boat for a rendezvous with Steller’s Eagles at the floating ice in the Nemuro-kaikyo Strait between Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands.

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi) at Dawn

The Kuril Islands, just north-east of Hokkaido, have been part of Russia since the Second World War.  Khrushchev apparently contemplated giving them back to Japan in the 1950s but it never happened.

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Juvenile White-tailed Sea Eagle (Ojiro-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

Steller’s sea eagles are the world’s heaviest eagles, weighing up to 9 kilos.  Their wingspan can be up to 2.5 metres or 8.2 feet.  They also have the largest head and beak of any eagle.  The world population is around 5,000 and they are classified as vulnerable.

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagles (O-washi) and White-tailed Sea Eagles (Ojiro-washi)

Steller’s eagles develop adult plumage and become sexually mature at about 4 to 5 years old.  They  live more than 30 years in the wild.

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi) harassing juvenile White-tailed Sea Eagle (Ojiro-washi)

Steller’s Sea Eagles winter in Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands, while in summer they are further north along the Asian coast.

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White-tailed Sea Eagle (Ojiro-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

The classification of vulnerable for Steller’s Sea Eagles means that they are at risk of becoming endangered.  Their reproduction rate is fairly low and the survival rate of chicks not that high.  They would be vulnerable to increased development in the areas in Siberia in which they breed.  Oil exploitation is possible in the region.  They breed in remote locations that are not easy to monitor so it could take some time to identify ecological changes causing fewer fledglings.

A few years ago, the sea eagles were experiencing reduced fish supply around Hokkaido due to human overfishing.  At the same time, the Japanese government was encouraging hunters to shoot deer to control numbers and the eagles took to eating deer carcases left by the humans.  Unexpectedly, this led to significant deaths by poisoning from lead in cartridges in the deer carcases – it only takes a couple of pellets to kill an eagle.  The Japanese Government has banned bullets and shotgun pellets containing lead in the area so it’s probably no longer a problem but is a good example of how the welfare of wildlife can be finely poised.  (Article).

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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Steller’s Sea Eagle (O-washi)

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GPS Location.

17 comments on “21st February: Hokkaido – Nemuro-kaikyo Strait near Rausu

  1. […] 21st February: Hokkaido – Nemuro-kaikyo Strait near Rausu […]

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  2. Lynne Ayers says:

    Stunningly beautiful shots.

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  3. montucky says:

    What awesome birds those are!

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  4. Isaac says:

    That bright orange beak contrasted with the eagle’s face is incredible!

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  5. David Patterson says:

    Absolutely incredible photographs of magnificent creatures!

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  6. […] image is actually from international waters, in the strait between Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands (Russia).  The background is snow and ice on the water, not […]

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  7. Christina E. Hogan says:

    I like to go Japan to watch Sea Eagle Owashi Nemuro , Japan
    I was born raised in Hokkaido and I speak fluentry Japanese and
    I am Hafu – Caucasian/Japanese during the Korean War .
    I live New York since 12/20/1972
    I photographs of Red-Tailed Hawk in New York City area .

    Like

    • Murray Foote says:

      Hokkaido is such a beautiful wild place, especially in winter. You have a great advantage there.

      We must be about the same age. I was born in 1950.

      I was in New York in 2011 and we were surprised to see a hawk flying around the trees in a crowded park.

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  8. Christina E. Hogan says:

    I am not used good at tablets but, my photograhy of Rd Tailed Hawk in
    google+ Astoria Park , Queens NY also Hawk make nest there .
    my pictutes look in to internet .
    I want going back to Japan and I was born orphan in sapporo on
    4/22/1950 my 14 years old Japanese mom put me trash and my dad
    John Little still don’t know .my mom died 2/11/2002 in South San Francisco at age 68 and I never met her .

    Like

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