Okichan, star of dolphin show holds Japan’s longest rearing record at 46 years

Okichan, star of dolphin show holds Japan’s longest rearing record at 46 years

Okichan, the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin and her handler, Suguru Higa posing for a picture at the Okichan Theater located at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Motobu on October 1.

October 5, 2020 Ryukyu Shimpo

Okichan Theater is located at Ocean Expo Park in Motobu, Okinawa, and is named after Okichan, the female Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin. She has been with the park for 46 years and currently holds the longest dolphin rearing record in Japan for the same species. The Ocean Expo Park reopened its doors on October 1 after temporarily closing due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Okichan Theater has also resumed its shows, and Okichan entertained visitors with her powerful jumps.

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are found around the world in warm and tropical climates. Domestically, they live in the waters near the Ogasawara Islands and the Amami area. They inhabit coastal areas unlike other dolphin species, making bycatch and vulnerability to environmental pollutions a concern.

Okichan is about 2.4 meters long and weighs 173 kilograms. She was brought to Ocean Expo Park from Amami Oshima by air in 1975 as the mascot for the International Ocean Exposition Okinawa, where she performed a show. The Okichan Theater has been a permanent fixture since, and Okichan continues to show off her enthusiastic swimming. She can expertly jump up to 4 meters, toss balls and hoops, and currently leads the pack, which comprises eight dolphins of six species including Okichan. Suguru Higa, 31, is the dolphin and manatee handler of the park’s marine animal division within the aquarium operation department. Higa said, “We are always looking after the dolphins’ wellbeing, but Okichan never gets sick. That’s her secret to longevity.”

As the novel coronavirus spread, the theater had to close at the end of February for an extended time. Higa recalled, “There’s no way to communicate to the dolphins that there will be no shows. So we practiced during the shutdown and made sure the dolphins maintained the same routine as before. The handlers also had to take care of themselves too, but we made sure to catch the slightest change in our dolphins.”

Spectators returned to Okichan Theater for the first time in seven months on October 1 when the show resumed. Okichan put on an energizing show with the other dolphins, while the mask-wearing crowd took photos and cheered on.

After the show, Higa rubbed Okichan’s snout and said, “I hope to continue sharing the allure of sea creatures with our visitors.”

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)

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