Exploring Shiretoko National Park in Winter (With Pictures and Videos)

Updated on June 18, 2019
ccleau profile image

Visiting Shiretoko in winter was one of CC's favorite travel experiences yet. She was surprised and amazed by what she found there.

Drift-Ice Sightseeing on an Icebreaker in Shiretoko
Drift-Ice Sightseeing on an Icebreaker in Shiretoko | Source

Shiretoko: A Journey to the 'End of the Earth’

Shiretoko National Park is a place that defies imagination. There, you can go on an icebreaker, come face to face with polar bears, go on walks with penguins, and watch fish swim under a frozen river (from the comfort of a heated room, of course) without having to go all the way to the South Pole.

Shiretoko attracts nature enthusiasts the whole year round, but it reserves its most spectacular display for winter.

The Shiretoko Peninsula, located on the northeastern side of Hokkaido in Japan, is one of the most unique wilderness areas in the world. Home to a rich variety of wildlife—including several endangered species of whales—the area's natural splendor has earned it a coveted spot on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at what I found; after all, according to locals, 'Shiretoko' means ‘the end of the earth’, which to me is synonymous with mystery and danger. I should have known to expect the unexpected.

On the Deck of a Shiretoko Icebreaker
On the Deck of a Shiretoko Icebreaker | Source

Ahoy! All Aboard the Icebreaker!

In winter, a strange phenomenon can be seen along the Shiretoko coastline—chunks of ice litter the sea as far as the eye can see in a seemingly unbroken sheet of white. Located on a similar geographical latitude as Portland, Oregon, and Venice, Italy (where surrounding seas typically don’t freeze), this freakish natural event occurs due to a chance confluence of climate and geography.

The Amur River—which forms a natural border between eastern Russia and northeastern China—empties into the Sea of Okhotsk off the north of Hokkaido, Japan, where it lowers the sea's salt concentration. Generally, the higher the salt concentration of water, the colder it needs to be before the water will freeze. Hence the lower salt concentration causes the surrounding sea to freeze more easily than other seas in freezing temperatures.

Drifting from northeastern Russia, the ice usually appears along the peninsula by late January and disappears again by early April. This has spawned a peculiar tourist activity: icebreaker tours.

Sea Eagles on Drift Ice off the Coast of Shiretoko
Sea Eagles on Drift Ice off the Coast of Shiretoko | Source

The ship bulldozes its way through the frozen sea, crushing lumps of ice in its path and allowing passengers to enjoy the drift ice up-close. The drifting patches of ice bring seals, which in turn attract enormous eagles who follow in their wake all the way from Kamchatka on the Russian coast. They hover in the sky above the frozen sea, hunting for prey beneath.

It's as if you’re venturing into the North Pole, where everything is in a state of permanent freeze.

Explore the Beauty of Shiretoko in Winter

Fishes Swim Beneath the Frozen-Over Aquarium at Northern Daichi Aquarium
Fishes Swim Beneath the Frozen-Over Aquarium at Northern Daichi Aquarium | Source

Northern Daichi Aquarium Is a Must-See

Nestled at the foot of a mountain range off a quiet motorway is an aquarium which was in decline like many remote villages nearby. Despite its unique collection of local river fish, the Northern Daichi Aquarium did not attract much attention until a makeover in 2012, which boosted attendance from 20,000 in previous years to 300,000 the following year. (It has averaged 100,000 visitors annually since.)

Where Do Fish Go in Winter?

The new design is the brainchild of aquarium architect Hajime Nakamura, whose passion is to build aquariums that appeal to the masses. In the coldest months, as river surfaces freeze, visitors often wonder, “Where do the fish go in winter?” His response: the world’s first frozen-over tank, which simulates a real river in winter.

This “Aquarium of Four Seasons” is a must-see, giving you a cross-section view of a “river aquarium” where you can see fish swim under ice.

A View of the Waterfall Plunge Pool From Below
A View of the Waterfall Plunge Pool From Below | Source

Not to be missed is the waterfall basin aquarium where you can watch trout and salmon swim against raging waters. This aquarium is the first of its kind in Japan; its underwater view looks up from the bottom of the waterfall, showing how fish navigate turbulent waters.

What a thrill to see how fish not only survive but thrive under icy waters!

Walking With Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo
Walking With Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo | Source

Walk With Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo

In the northernmost zoo in Japan, they take the idea of a petting zoo to new levels. Granted, you can’t pet a polar bear, but it comes pretty close. Welcome to Asahiyama Zoo, the northernmost zoo in Japan, where cold-climate species are housed in enclosures that simulate their natural habitats.

Visitors are treated to scheduled, daily penguin walks (yes, in the open along a prescribed route) and polar bears diving and swimming in their aquatic park.

Up Close and Personal With a Polar Bear at Asahiyama Zoo
Up Close and Personal With a Polar Bear at Asahiyama Zoo | Source

How Do Animals Behave in Their Natural Habitat?

This zoo is unique in that it shows animals' natural behavior from different perspectives. The creative architecture allows you to look up and see seals darting through the water and penguins seemingly flying above your head through aqua tunnels.

Snow foxes and owls are so well camouflaged in their enclosures that you struggle to make out their shapes against the all-white background. It's as if you're on a "winter safari" sharing the same environment as the animals and watching them go about their business.

Watch Seals at Play in an Aqua Tunnel
Watch Seals at Play in an Aqua Tunnel | Source

I Found Abundant Life at the End of the Earth

These are just some of the marvelous highlights from my journey to 'the end of the earth.' Shiretoko's icy facade makes it seem as though it's devoid of life, lying dormant and awaiting spring. It's merely a cover though; Shiretoko is teeming with life where it’s least expected, leaving intrepid travellers hungry for more.

A Closer Look at the Shiretoko Peninsula

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 CC Leau

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Guckenberger profile image

        Alexander James Guckenberger 

        4 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

        The frozen aquarium is fascinating. All if this is!

      • Lorna Lamon profile image

        Lorna Lamon 

        4 months ago

        This is a well structured article with wonderful photos. Shiretoko sounds like an amazing place to visit. Thank you for sharing.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        4 months ago from UK

        This is a well-illustrated article which includes a lot of information about this interesting area. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

      • Ameen2002 profile image

        Ameen Selegi 

        4 months ago from Rochelle Park, NJ 07662

        Hi CC Leau,

        Wow! it's really nice places, I wish to visit it someday.

        The end of the Earth Wow! It's really cool.

        Thanks for your article.

        Have a nice day.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://wanderwisdom.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)