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Ice Breaker Cruise

The drift ice (流氷, Ryūhyō) is formed from the fresh water of the Amur River in Russia, which then traverses through the Sea of Okhotsk by the borders of China until it reaches Abashiri. The drift ice can be seen at Shiretoko Peninsula all the way to Wakkanai, but it is the thickest in Abashiri. The natural phenomenon usually reaches the northern part of Hokkaido in mid to late January. Abashiri is the southernmost area to see the drifting sea ice and has become a popular tourist spot to view the frozen clumps. However, due to global warming the drift ice is not as thick as it was back in the 1980s. To promote awareness of the changes in climate, Abashiri has the Drift Ice Festival to remind people to take care of our environment. If the conditions are good during the season, then you will be able to see the drift ice from the shore. Ryuhyo Norokko is a train service that only operates in the winter goes from Abashiri to Shiretoko-Shari. On the one hour train ride you can see the drift ice along the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk. The train makes a stop at JR Kitahama station, which is made of wood, because it has a great panoramic view of the drift ice.

There is a sightseeing cruise that goes out into the Sea of Okhotsk that uses the ice breaker cruiser Aurora. It plows through the ice at 3 knots per hour and from the observation deck you might have a chance to see the wildlife that migrates with the drift ice. The Steller’s sea eagles are one of the migratory birds that can been seen on top of the frozen water mass. The spotted seals give birth and raise their young in the Sea of Okhotsk so it is possible to catch a glimpse of them too. Under the drift ice you might encounter Clione, which are small floating sea slugs, also known as sea angels. These creatures have a transparent body about the size of 10 mm and while they swim it looks as though they are flapping their wings. The Clione are attached to the drift ice so once it melts these aquatic specimens go away with it.

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