Tag Archives: sharks

Only their mother can tell them apart

20 Aug

Hi blog.

You’ll have to excuse my lack of  blogging this month.  Work (including a three day English camp), a few nights away, more work etc. have contributed to a lack of encounters with wildlife.

I really wish I had no access to media sometimes.  Summer in Japan is bad enough if you hate baseball as much as I do, but add the Olympics to that and it becomes unbearable at times.  Should a Japanese competitor win a medal, then that becomes headline news for the next three days, with replays of the event every half hour, live coverage of the fans watching, interviews with parents, grandparents, old teammates, fourth grade teachers… you might understand why I nearly tear my hair out.

Then, just occasionally (like a gem in a sewer) an item like this will appear on my news feed.  Like the recent news of the life expectancy of Greenland sharks, this article again emphasises just how much we don’t know about the sea.

From the Japan Times.

Twins born in Toyama aquarium’s female-only shark tank stump officials

Twins born in Toyama aquarium’s female-only shark tank stump officials


 AUG 19, 2016

Officials at Uozu Aquarium in Toyama Prefecture are scratching their heads after finding twin baby banded houndsharks in a tank that only held three female adults.

The female twins, named Mana and Kana after well-known twin actresses, were found in the aquarium’s tank on May 8, the officials said. They said it might be a case of parthenogenesis, a type of asexual reproduction in which offspring develop from unfertilized eggs. Although parthenogenesis has been observed in other shark species, the case in the city of Uozu, if confirmed, would be the first ever for banded houndsharks, they said.

The aquarium noted that a baby shark appeared under similar circumstances in April 2013, but they decided not to look into it because it died immediately, the officials said.

According to Kenji Nohara, a lecturer at Tokai University who is well-versed in the shark propagation, females of some shark species have the ability to store sperm in their bodies after mating. But Nohara said such a scenario is unlikely for the sharks at the aquarium, because the last of the three adult banded houndsharks was brought to the aquarium in January 2012, and it would be difficult to assume they mated in the wild and used sperm that was stored four years ago.

Mana and Kana, which have grown to about 30 cm long, are expected to be put on display until the end of this month. The aquarium will decide whether to ask Nohara to conduct a DNA test on them.

Banded houndsharks inhabit waters south of Hokkaido. It is an ovoviviparous fish that produces eggs that develop within the maternal body. A banded houndshark usually propagates in springtime and gives birth to 10 to 20 fry at a time.

Article ends.

Now, why can’t we have more articles like this instead of Olympic coverage?

Oarai for Sharks

27 Mar

Hi blog.

Well, much of March was was mediocre at best – by the mid-point of the month we had experienced our coldest March for some 32 years.  Rain and cold was the order of the day.  Then we had some splendid weather, and then winter’s revenge.

I’ve been busy with work functions, and the lack of wildlife was really going to keep me away from the keyboard – until an early-morning call from the in-laws.

“Do you want to go to the Oarai Aquarium?”

(I don’t care if that question was aimed at the kids.  You know what my answer is.)

Aqua World in Oarai, Ibaraki, boasts the largest number of shark species of any aquarium in Japan.  It managed to find its 15 minutes of fame a couple of years ago, thanks to one of its sand tiger sharks.

From the Metro News, May 2nd, 2014


You’re gonna need a bigger aquarium.

Staff at Aqua World in Oarai, Japan, witnessed the brutal hierarchy of the sea when a large nine-foot sand tiger shark attempted to eat a smaller white tip reef shark with whom it shares its tank.

The attacker attempted to eat his intra-species prey for 40 minutes, until giving up due to it being too chewy.

A caretaker on an early morning shift caught the star attraction predator attempting to swallow the smaller fish whole after failing to puncture the reef shark’s tough skin.

The sharks in the tank tend to ignore each other as they are fed regularly to avoid such incidents.

The sand tiger shark in question had not been eating for weeks, leaving staff worried about its lack of appetite.

The reef shark was finally rescued by staff members but was too badly mauled and later died from its wounds.


The New York Daily News had a similar article, but managed to get the species of shark wrong!


A female also expelled a still-born foetus in December last year, the first time one of the species has been confirmed pregnant in captivity in Japan.  The official web page (in Japanese only) can be found here.


The sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) has several other English common names – in Australia, for example, it is usually known as the grey nurse shark.  The Japanese name is, as some of my regular followers may remember,  shirowani (白鰐).

The business end of the sand tiger shark.

Sand tiger shark patrolling its tank.

Apart from the sharks, there was plenty of other marine life on display.

Japanese spider crabs


Moon jellyfish


Green turtle with a school of Japanese pilchards in the background.


A whirlpool of Japanese pilchards. Unfortunately, some people think that the tank label should include a recipe!

Unfortunately, the dolphin and sea lion show tends to also draw crowds.  I never really feel entirely comfortable watching animals perform, especially when they are purely for entertainment purpose (the names of the species were not even mentioned).  I might be a little more forgiving if there was less emphasis on music and lights and more of “this is a bottlenose dolphin…”

Other than that, however, I enjoyed the trip.




Bronze Sword with Shark Engraving

1 Mar

Hi blog.

March has arrived, and so have the battles between the high and low pressure cells across the Kanto, leading to gusty winds (often from the north when I’m cycling – northwards – to work, and then from the south when I’m cycling home), alternating warm-ish (I’m Australian, don’t forget) and cold weather, and increased humidity.  At least my frostbitten toe should get better soon.

I first saw this article in Japanese on a news poster at work and waited to see if an English translation would come out.  Although it is an archaeology article, it is relevant to Wild in Japan in that the sword in question was found in the old Inaba area and the shark image just may have some connection with the tale of the White Hare of Inaba

Article from the Asahi Shimbun: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201602260038

Image of shark found on ancient bronze sword

February 26, 2016

By KUNIHIKO IMAI/ Senior Staff Writer

Tests on an ancient bronze sword taken out of storage in the Tottori Prefectural Museum have surprised researchers.

The blade of the weapon from the second century B.C. bears an engraving of a shark, the first time an image of this kind has been found on a bronze object.

The problem is that the provenance of the weapon remains a mystery. It was donated to the museum 26 years ago by the family of a collector who lived in the prefecture and had died. Other than that, nothing is known of the sword. There are no records of where it was found.

Researchers are curious because earthenware vessels and wooden objects from the Yayoi Pottery Culture (300 B.C.-A.D. 300) have been discovered at sites facing the Sea of Japan with images of sharks, but never on a bronze object.

The artifact has been dated to the mid-Yayoi period.

The finding was announced Feb. 10 by the Tottori prefectural government and the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

The sword is about 42 centimeters long.

The Nara research institute recently examined the blade and noticed the 2.3-cm-long etching of a shark. Based on its streamlined shape and the characteristics of two dorsal fins and other details, researchers concluded it is not an image of a dolphin or ordinary fish.

Researchers already know that Japanese people in ancient times were familiar with sharks as the fish feature in the mythological story of “Inaba no Shirousagi” (Hare of Inaba). Inaba is the old name for the eastern part of Tottori Prefecture.

Earthen vessels and wooden objects from the Yayoi period with drawings of sharks have been unearthed at archaeological sites such as Aoyakamijichi in Tottori, Hakaza in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, and Shiroedakojin in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture.

“In the Sanin region (primarily Tottori and Shimane prefectures) during the Yayoi period, a cultural unity existed through trade, and people there probably drew sharks as a symbol,” said Isao Yumura, a researcher with the Tottori Prefectural Archives. “Sharks repeatedly shed and replace their teeth. Shark meat also is rich in ammonia, which makes it difficult to go rotten. Perhaps sharks were a symbol of regeneration or longevity.”

Yumura’s office is currently engaged in compiling a book on the prefecture’s history. It had asked the Nara research institute to examine the bronze sword as part of that effort.

The shark engraving was probably applied with a sharp stone or metal tool.

“I suspect the bronze sword may have come from a different area and that the engravers etched their own mark,” said Yozo Nanba, director of the Nara research institute’s Center for Archaeological Operations.

The artifact will be exhibited in the Tottori Prefectural Museum in Tottori city until May 8.

This ancient bronze sword from the Yayoi Pottery Culture period bears an image of a shark. (Eijiro Morii)

This ancient bronze sword from the Yayoi Pottery Culture period bears an image of a shark. (Eijiro Morii)

Article ends.

I’m so glad they decided to put this one out in English.  It’s certainly another piece in the puzzle in the origin of the tale.

Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water…

7 Aug

Hi blog.

Luckily for me, weather and 70th anniversary of the atomic bo “don’t mention the war!” are not the only things in the news. Sharks are a bit of a rarity around Japanese beaches, so when fairly large sharks not normally found in Kanto waters come close to popular beaches in Kanto waters, that IS news. Of course, for every action, there is an equal and opposite over-reaction, and the authorities have responded by doing what the seaside town in the original Jaws could have saved itself a lot of trouble by doing. From the Japan Times http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/08/06/national/ibaraki-beaches-ban-swimming-sharks-spotted/#.VcQDE_nLJgI

Shark sighting in Ibaraki prompts swimming ban at beaches


Two sharks have been spotted off the coast of Hokota in Ibaraki Prefecture, prompting authorities in the city and in three municipalities nearby to prohibit swimming in the sea on Wednesday. According to the Ibaraki Prefectural Government, the city of Hokota received the reports from residents starting Tuesday night and the Ibaraki Coast Guard Office on Wednesday spotted two sharks, one about 4 meters long. They’re believed to be sand sharks. The prefectural officials warn that the sharks could attack humans if provoked and are urging people not to go near them. It is rare for sharks to be seen close to the shore off Ibaraki, they said. Swimming was prohibited at beaches in the cities of Hokota, Kashima, Kamisu and the town of Oarai on Wednesday. Hokota, Kashima and Oarai plan to continue the ban on Thursday.

And from the Irish Times, of all places http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/asia-pacific/shark-sightings-force-closure-of-japanese-beaches-1.2308639

Shark sightings force closure of Japanese beaches

Aug 6, 2015 Nine beaches are closed north of Tokyo after two sharks are spotted in the area. http://bcove.me/vm301x63 Video: Ibaraki Prefecture Police/Reuters
Nine beaches were closed along the coast of Ibaraki prefecture in Japan on Thursday (August 6) after two sharks appeared near a spot favoured by surfers, local media said.Located about 130 kilometres north of Tokyo, police helicopters spotted on Wednesday (August 5) what they said were possibly two sandbar sharks swimming near surfers off Hokota beach.On Thursday (August 6), the beaches were closed at 8am (2300GMT August 5) with local authorities warning people not to approach the shores. An official at local Ibaraki aquarium, Aqua World, said sandbar sharks are considered harmless but could mistake humans for food as they chase fish shoals. Police said the two sharks were believed to be four metres long as they appeared 65 feet away from the shore. Ibaraki prefecture officials said so far no injuries had been reported due to the sharks but that beaches would remain closed for the moment. Aquarium officials said sandbar sharks are not native to these waters but commons in the warmer southern seas near Okinawa.  

Regarding the sharks in question, the Japanese sources place them as being relatives of the sandbar shark  (Carcharhinus plumbeus), although I’m not sure how helpful that is – sandbar sharks have a lot of relatives!  Incidently, the Japanese name is mejirozame (目白鮫), literally “white eye shark”. I hope the sharks move on before our upcoming trip to Chiba.  I’m not too concerned about the risk of shark attack, I’m more worried about what to do with the kids if the beaches are closed! 

When Nature Bites Back

15 Jun

Hi blog.

Just a little news story from last week.

While sharks are not exactly backyard wildlife here in landlocked Saitama, they live in Japan’s coastal regions.  Even so, they are rarely encountered by anyone other than fishermen, and attacks on humans are incredibly rare.


Surfer survives shark attack in Japan

A 43-year-old man has been seriously injured after being attacked by a shark while surfing off central Japan, officials said Tuesday, warning local beachgoers to be alert.

Tsuyoshi Takahashi, an off-duty life guard, was rushed to hospital on Sunday afternoon after the shark sank its teeth into his left arm some 30 metres (100 feet) offshore, a fire department official said.

The accident occurred while Takahashi was surfing with his colleagues in the Pacific off the Atsumi peninsula in Aichi, some 250 kilometre (155 miles) west of Tokyo, a spot well-known for its big waves.

“He was seriously injured and got 30 stitches to the wound, but there is no threat to his life,” said the official, adding: “We are calling on other surfers to be on the alert against sharks.”

Japan’s long coastline is home to a variety of sharks, but attacks on people are relatively rare. The species of shark involved on Sunday was not known.

According to the local government, the weekend incident was the first shark attack in the prefecture since 1995 when a fisherman was killed by a great white.


The White Hare of Inaba & Crocodiles vs. Sharks

1 Nov

So this Deity Master-of-the-Great-Land had eighty Deities his brethren; but they all left the land to the Deity Master-of-the-Great-Land.  The reason for their leaving it was this: Each of these eighty Deities had in his heart the wish to marry the Princess of Yakami in Inaba, and they went together to Inaba, putting their bag on [the back of] the Deity Great-Name-Possessor, whom they took with them as an attendant.  Hereupon, when they arrived at Cape Keta, [they found] a naked hare lying down.  Then the eighty Deities spoke to the hare, saying: “What thou shouldest do is to bathe in the sea-water here, and lie on the slope of a high mountain exposed to the blowing of the wind.”  So the hare followed the instructions of the eighty Deities, and lay down.  Then, as the sea-water dried, the skin of its body all split with the blowing of the wind, so that it lay weeping with pain.  But the Deity Great-Name-Possessor, who came last of all, saw the hare, and said: “Why liest thou weeping?”  The hare replied, saying: “I was in the Island of Oki, and wished to cross over to this land, but had no means of crossing over.  For this reason I deceived the crocodiles of the sea, saying: ‘Let you and me compete, and compute the numbers of our [respective] tribes.  So do you go and fetch every member of your tribe, and make them all lie in a row across from this island to Cape Keta.  Then I will tread on them, and count them as I run across.  Hereby shall we know whether it or my tribe is the larger.’  Upon my speaking thus, they were deceived and lay down in a row, and I trod on them and counted them as I came across, and was just about to get on land, when I said: ‘You have been deceived by me.’  As soon as I had finished speaking, the crocodile who lay the last of all seized me and stripped off all my clothing.  As I was weeping and lamenting for this reason, the eighty Deities who went by before [thee] commanded and exhorted me, saying: ‘Bathe in the salt water, and lie down exposed to the wind.’  So, on my doing as they had instructed me, my whole body was hurt.”  Thereupon the Deity Great-Name-Possessor instructed the hare, saying: “Go quickly now to the river-mouth, wash thy body with the fresh water, then take the pollen of the sedges [growing] at the river-mouth, spread it about, and roll about upon it, whereupon thy body will certainly be restored to its original state.”  So [the hare] did as it was instructed, and its body became as it had been originally.  This was the White Hare of Inaba.  It is now called the Hare Deity.  So the hare said to the Deity Great-Name-Possessor: “These eighty Deities shall certainly not get the Princess of Yakami.  Though thou bearest the bag, Thine Augustness shall obtain her.”

From the Kojiki, translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain


This myth is the basis for a children’s story The White Hare of Inaba.

The story is a goldfield for mythology and folklore enthusiasts; but since Wild in Japan is primarily a wildlife blog, let’s just stick to the two animals mentioned in the tale.

The hare in question would have to be a Japanese hare (Lepus brachyurus), or Nihon nousagi (日本野兎), one of only two species of leporid – the other being the Amami rabbit – living in Japan.  Japanese hares will grow white fur in winter in snowy climes, but it seems likely that the white in the story is probably symbolic – both the fox messengers of the god Inari and the snake messengers of the Suwa Shrine are also white.

Popular versions of the story hold that the hare was washed from the mainland to the Oki Islands during a storm.  Curiously, there is a sub-species of the Japanese hare found only on the Oki Islands (Lepus brachyurus okiensis), and the islands were also used for exile.  (Does the hare in the tale represent an exile from the mainland?)

More enigmatic is the crocodile mentioned in Chamberlain’s translation.  The Kojiki uses the word “wani”, written as (和邇) for its phonetic value – the ideograms do not actually indicate what it is.  However, the homophone wani (鰐) is also the Japanese generic name for crocodiles and alligators.

Crocodile, as depicted in the Wakansansaizue.

While fossil records show that crocodiles (Toyotamaphimeia and several others) lived in Japan in the distant past and, apparently, vagrant estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) have been reported as far north as the Sea of Japan, the crocodile seems an unlikely candidate.  The other crocodilian species found in northeast Asia is the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis), but since alligators don’t tolerate salt water well, it is extremely unlikely that any found their way into Japanese seas in numbers sufficient to be included in Japanese folklore.  (Caveat: fossil evidence indicates this species was extant in Japan during the Pliocene)

A late 19th century account of a crocodile being captured in Amami. Apparently it was then eaten.

A more detailed depiction of the crocodile in Amami. Experts believe this to be a vagrant estuarine crocodile. Some claim that there may have even been a tiny population on Iriomote Island, Okinawa. Both illustrations taken from “Nanto Zatsuwa”.

But don’t discount the crocodile completely – Chamberlain himself believed the creature in question to be a kind of dragon, for which “crocodile” was the more accurate rendering.  Other sources claim that the story may have its origins in the Indonesian islands and Malaysian peninsula, featuring a mouse deer or a monkey deceiving  crocodiles.

(How James Bond would have done it)

Others have suggested whales or sea snakes.  I would be so bold as to suggest the possibility of wani being the semi-legendary sage Wani (王仁) and his fellow Confucian scholars, or perhaps the family with the name Wani.  I found one other site which also suggested the latter.

Many versions of The White Hare of Inaba, however, have the hare crossing over on a barrage of sharks.  The Japanese words for shark are same (鮫) as a generic term; and fuka (鱶), which is used in the Kansai for large sharks.  The old word wanizame (鰐鮫) is also used to describe vicious sharks.  Furthermore, in the Izumo area the dialectal word for shark is “wani”.  And if that isn’t enough, I discovered that three species of shark found in or around Japanese waters have “wani” in their name – the smalltooth sand tiger (Odontaspis ferox) or owanizame (大鰐鮫), the sand tiger shark or grey nurse (Carcharias taurus), known locally as shirowani (白鰐), and the crocodile shark (Pseudocarcharias kamoharai), which is known as mizuwani (水鰐).

Shark, as depicted in the Wakansansaizue. Definitely not Jaws…

In this battle between the crocodile and the shark, it looks like the shark is the winner.

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