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'Yodo-Chan' the Visiting Whale Weakens, Dies in Osaka Bay After Captivating Japan

Nicknamed "Yodo-chan" on social media in Japan, what was thought to be a sperm whale wandered into the bay in weakened condition.

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A 24-foot whale became a minor celebrity in Japan after it wandered into the mouth of Osaka's Yodo River in early January. Weakening in the days thereafter, it died on Friday, January 13. 

Nicknamed "Yodo-chan" on social media in Japan, the whale is thought to be a sperm whale. It was first spotted early Monday, January 9, by a truck driver at a highway rest stop that overlooks the bay. 

Around 7:30 AM, the driver reported that something in the water was "spouting like a whale." The Japan Coast Guard then confirmed the whale's presence, asking fishermen and other boats to stay clear and avoid collisions. 

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"Yodo-chan" the whale is spotted in Osaka Bay. (© Kyodo)

Popular Concern for the New Media Star

Domestic media heavily covered the whale and its meanderings. In addition, local families flocked to the bay to catch a glimpse. Posts tagged "Yodo-chan" in Japanese have spread on social media, with many voicing concern for the whale's fate.

A representative from Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research said that the whale could be a "young sperm whale from the Pacific Ocean that was separated from its pod." In addition, the representative noted that the whale was "drifting and appeared to be weak" when it appeared.

Healthy sperm whales can survive for weeks, relying on their fat reserves. The apparently weakening whale appeared to be drifting with the current in a part of the bay that is two to three meters deep. 

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"Yodo-chan" spouts, demonstrating its will to live, but while wandering in Osaka Bay with little strength. (© Kyodo)

A Whale in Japan's Coastal Waters

Osaka Bay is a bustling port on Japan's eastern coast. It is largely blocked off from the Pacific Ocean by Awaji Island, which leaves only two relatively narrow points of access.

Whales that have wandered into Japan's bays have long become famous curiosities. In 1798, a 55-foot-long humpback that swam into Shinagawa Bay drew crowds including the shogun. It was a popular scene famously captured in ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

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"Yodo-chan" is swimming in the bay with the city of Osaka behind. (© Kyodo)

Whales, including sperm whales, are common along Japan's coast. Adult male sperm whales can reach 52-feet in length and weigh 45 tons.

Several coastal communities still hunt whales, which are served as a delicacy across the country. Sperm whales, once prized for their oil and hunted widely around the world, have been protected from hunting internationally since the 1980s. Classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), currently their biggest threats are ship collisions and fishing nets.

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City officials and experts from Osaka Aquarium went out to check on the Yodo-chan the whale, which had stopped moving. (© Kyodo)

If you are interested in whales, find more about Japan and whales on our website, Whaling Today.

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Author: Jay Alabaster

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