NIPPONIA No. 42 September 15, 2007


Special Featuresp_star.gifOkinawa’s Beautiful Sea

A new beginning for Fuji the dolphin

Ocean Expo Park has other attractions as well. One of the most popular is the dolphin show at the Okichan Theater, which is open to the Okinawan sky and boasts the sea as a backdrop beyond the jumping tank. The four or five daily shows are a hit with the young crowd. The Dolphin Lagoon pool nearby lets you get up close, and the fun educational program will teach you more about dolphins and their natural surroundings.

Another world-first swims here—the only bottle-nosed dolphin in the world to have an artificial tailfin. His name is Fuji. He survived a disease in the fall of 2002 but lost about three-quarters of his tailfin, leaving him floating aimlessly in the pool day after day. Aquarium staff felt sorry for the poor fellow, unable to keep up with his friends like before. They took note of the fact that a dolphin’s tailfin feels like rubber. In April 2003 they launched the Artificial Tailfin Project, and asked the rubber manufacturer, Bridgestone, to make an artificial tailfin.

Dolphins hate to have something attached to them, and the trainers had to help Fuji get used to his new fin. Their affection, combined with plenty of training and the work of technical engineers, made it possible for Fuji to jump into the air again, finally, after (human) trial and error and more than 20 different styles of rubber tailfin.

But that is not the end of the story. “We’re still developing a new type of fin for him. We’re now fitting Fuji with his tailfin and testing it for several hours at a time,” explains Fuji’s main trainer, Kasue Yoshitaka. The research goes on, as they compare Fuji’s swimming style with that of other dolphins, while conducting scientific trials to examine the advantages of different designs.

Left: Fuji the Dolphin, with trainer Kasue Yoshitaka.
Top right: A guide for visitors in the Kuroshio Tours section of the aquarium, which looks down on the huge pool.
Middle right: The dolphin shows are always popular.
Bottom right: Fuji’s latest artificial tailfin.

A call for help from the sea

Ocean Expo Park has a tank for manatees presented by the Mexican government. The aquarium celebrated the birth of a female here in 2001.

It would be hard to imagine someone coming to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and not being entranced by the huge tanks and the energetic marine life.

But we cannot forget that oceans worldwide have begun deteriorating because of problems like global warming and pollution. The sea around Okinawa is no exception. Kinjo says the aquarium hopes visitors will leave in awe of the wonders of the sea, and realize the need to protect them.

Getting there:
From Haneda Airport (Tokyo), a 3-hour flight to Naha.
From Naha Airport, 2 hours by car via the Okinawa Expressway to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, or 2 hours by bus to the Nago bus terminal and then 1 hour by bus to Ocean Expo Park.
For more info:
Tel: +81-980-48-3748
Fax: +81-980-48-4444 (English)