Whale watching in Sri Lanka goes back to the 1980s, with the first whale sighting in East Sri Lanka by a group of marine biologists. They observed that sperm and blue whales were coming to the harbour in Trincomalee (read more about Trincomalee) with the help of submarine canyon.
Have Fun With Whale Watching in Sri Lanka
Whale watching Sri Lanka has become a popular activity among foreign travellers on the island. Because Sri Lanka is one of the best places to observe whales and dolphins in the world. Being an island in the south of India, Sri Lanka is surrounded by the Indian Ocean. There is a high concentration of whales and dolphins in many parts of the Sri Lankan water, mainly in the sea of south-west Sri Lanka and east coast of Sri Lanka.
Being a country in the International Whaling Associations protected zone, is one reason for the large concentration of whales around the country. Same times Sri Lanka is located on the migration path of Whales in the Indian Ocean and it is also being a significant reason for a large number of whale sighting around the country.
To see a blue whale at sea is something most of us can only dream about.
To see more than one in a lifetime is a rarity reserved for a fortunate few.
To be in a boat surrounded by five or six blue whales is an experience so
profoundly moving, it inspires us to…fight for the conservation of whales and their ocean environment.
Whale watching Sri Lanka the historical facts
Whale watching in Sri Lanka goes back to the 1980s, with the first whale sighting in East Sri Lanka by a group of marine biologists. They observed that sperm and blue whales were coming to the harbour in Trincomalee (read more about Trincomalee) with the help of submarine canyon. Whales in east Sri Lanka was used in an award-winning film called Whales weep not, very first underwater film, which was filmed in the natural habitat of Sperm whales. Even though Trincomalee was recognized as a whale-watching hotspot, it was not served as a safe place for such activities owing to the civil war that ended in 2009.
It was off the coast of Sri Lanka in 2003 that Genvieve Johnson the well-known cytological conservationist and broadcaster had her “profoundly moving experience. Sri Lanka is one of the few places in the world that can offer a wealth of such experiences, yet the country’s reputation as marine mammal haven is of relatively recent date. For centuries, Sri Lanka’s whales, dolphins and dugongs were secret known only to fisherfolk and other residents of the island’s coastal belt, as well as a small number of foreign mariners, whalers and naturalist.
The country first got the attention of international cytological attention
in the early 1980s, after three cetacean researchers-Hal Whitehead,
Jonathan Gordon and Roger Payee- documented the unusual frequency of great whale sighting off the Sri Lankan coast. Word began to spread beyond the cytological community in 1983, following an international conference held in Colombo to increase awareness of teh country’s cetacean heritage and the importance of conserving it. (see “The Tulip Expedition” p.13).
Soon, whale-watching tours were being offered to a growing number of enthusiastic tourists and researchers.
Where to go for whale watching in Sri Lanka?
Whales are reported in all parts of the Sri Lankan waters other than North Sri Lanka. Owing to its shallowness this part of the sea makes it unsuitable for whales. Eastern Sri Lanka is also offering plenty of chances to observe Whales and dolphins. Since the end of the Civil war (2009) in North-East of Sri Lanka, the sea off Trincomalee has also become a major whale watching destination and many travellers start their whale watching trip from the east coast. The sea off the southern coast is also equally popular for whale sighting and the sea off the south coast is also frequented by several species of whales.
Whale-watching had been a very popular activity among the tourists in the country and commercial whale watching was started more than a decade ago. With the increasing number of tourists in the recent past resulted in high demand for the whale watching activities in the country.
Marine mammal species in Sri Lanka water
Rorqual whale family-Balaenopteridae
- Blue whale Balaenoptera musculus Migrant/seasonal
- Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus Migrant/seasonal
- Sei Whale Balaenoptera borealis Possible/probable
- Bryde’s whale Balaenoptera edeni Resident
- Minke whale Balaenoptera acurorostrata Migrant/seasonal
- Humpback whale Balaenoptera novaeangliae Known to be Present
Sperm whale family –Physeteridae & Kogiidae
- Sperm whale Physeteridae macrocephalus Nomadic
- pygmy sperm whale Kogia breviceps Resident
- Dwarf sperm whale Kogia sima Resident
Beaked whale family-Ziphiidae
- Longman’s beaked whale Indopacetus Pacificus Known to be Present
- Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris Known to be Present
- Deraniyagala’s ginkgo-toothed beaked whale Mesoplodon ginkgodens Possible/probable
- Blainville’s beaked whale Mesoplodon densirostris Known to be Present
Blackfish family –Delphinidae
- Orca Orcinus orca Nomadic
- Sjhort-finned pilot whale Globicephaphala macrorhynchus Nomadic
- False killer whale Pseudorca crassidens Nomadic
- Melon headed whale Peponocephale electra Resident
- Pygmy killer whale Fersa attenuata Resident
There are five types of whales recorded around the country; Blue whale, sperm whale, Minke, Melon-headed and Dwarf Sperm. Deepwater in South-East Sri Lanka around Kalpitiya is occupied by all types of whales and dolphins. The biggest animal in world Blue whale and sperm whale are reported very often around Kalpitiya. One does not need to travel far off to the see like in most other whale watching destinations, in order to observe whales in South-East Sri Lanka. November to December and March to April is considered as the peak season for whale sighting in this region.
Spotting whales in southern Sri Lanka
In Southern Sri Lanka off Mirissa or Dondra head also reported a large number of sperm and blue whales. Anderson a well known marine biologist believes that part of the whales that can be seen in southern Sri Lanka, is residents whales, while the others considered as migratory whales crossed over to the Indian Ocean from the Arabian Sea through the Bay of Bengal. Anderson believes that whales are passing the island on the way to the direction of Bay of Bengal in January and April they are heading to the opposite direction passing Sri Lanka and Maldives alone the way to the Arabian Sea.
Second research on marine life off the southern coast was conducted in 2003 and was called The Voyage of Odyssey the research had come up with many whale sightings in the region. According to marine biologists, southern deep water off Dondra point is the best site for whale watching on the island since it is located close to the shore.
Being a country in the International Whaling Associations protected zone is one reason for the large concentration of whales around the country. Same times Sri Lanka is located on the migration path of Whales in the Indian Ocean and it is also being a significant reason for a large number of whale sighting around the country.
Scientific finding on Sri Lankan whales
Marine biologist Asha de Vos has conducted the first-ever such major scientific study on blue whales in Sri Lanka. The study covered the important facts about the whales of Sri Lanka, which is unique to the island. The study also shows how to implement an effective scientific conservation effort to protect this endangered marine animal. The behaviour of blue whales and nature of threats to the existence of blue whales are important facts revealed in the press conference.
According to the research findings, the blue whales of Sri Lanka is unique to the country. Sri Lanka is known to be inhabited by a large number of blue whales. Southern Sri Lanka and Eastern part of the country is particularly popular for whale watching in Sri Lanka. Even though the blue whale is globally declared as an endangered animal species and it is a protected animal, some countries are still engaged in whale hunting. Blue whales are being killed for its oil, meat, and other parts.
Today the total number of blue whales in the world estimated to be around 10,000 and it is a sharp reduction of its population of 300,000 in the past.
Asha de Vos referred to the whales of Sri Lanka as the “unorthodox whales” because these animals behave differently than the other populations in the world. The longest blue whale discovered in Sri Lankan water is 25 meters; hence the blue whales of the Pacific Ocean are five meters longer.
The main threat for the existence of blue whales of Sri Lankan water is identified as the ships that pass southern Sri Lanka on the international sea route. A large number of blue whales had been killed so far owing to the ship strikes. One of the busiest sea routes in the world happens to be running across the area where blue whales residing and which is the main reason for the injuries of whales. Most recent such incident was heard on March 20, 2012, when a blue whale entangled on to the bow of a ship and brought to the harbour.
According to the research unregulated whale watching is identified as a potential threat to the well being of Blue whales. Today there are no rules and regulation involved with whale watching in Sri Lanka. The researchers opine that whale-watching industry should be adhering to the international standards and regulations to sustain the whale watching as a long-term attraction of the island.
An incident in which a whale was killed by ship strikes
A giant whale has washed ashore in west Sri Lanka in the region of Kosgoda. Kosgoda is a fishing village and one of the most popular beaches in Sri Lanka located 70 km south of Colombo and, which is a fishing village. The whale is still alive, at the time the report is written, but it is suffering from few wounds and the Whale is about 100 meters in length. The whale is washed ashore by the current since it is wounded and not being able to swim against the strong current. The wounded whale was carried to the shore by the strong current and the animal was stranded on the shore for two days.
Whale watching Sri Lanka, where and when?
Whale watching Sri Lanka can be done in several places on the island, depending on the weather conditions. Best place for whale watching in Sri Lanka off the south and west coast is from November to May, while the east coast is suitable for whale watching from May to October.
Whale watching Sri Lanka, Mirissa
Mirissa off the southern coast considered to be the best place for a top-notch whale watching experience in Sri Lanka. Mirissa is the place to spot a large concentration of blue whales and sperm whales. Typical whale watching trip off the coast Mirissa lasts between 1 to 4 hours depending on the time spent for a whale sighting. Whales are occurring about 1 km off the coast of Mirissa and dolphins are also can be spotted here. Whales can be seen here throughout the year but November to April is the main whale watching season here due to the favourable weather to travel on the sea.
Mirissa is located near the southern tip (dondra) of Sri Lanka. One can easily reach Mirissa from Colombo and travel time is around 2 hours from Colombo to Mirissa by southern expressway. The travel time between Mirissa and Colombo will be around 4 hours on Matara-Colombo main road. Travelling from Colombo to Mirissa can be done by public buses, trains or taxis. Travelling by train between Colombo and Mirissa is comfortable, cheap and time-saving. Even though travelling by Taxi is but expensive compared to buses it is the best option to travel from Colombo to Matara and vice versa. It is very comfortable, safe and saves a lot of time.
Whale watching Sri Lanka how much does it cost
Usually, the whale watching tours are offered 7 days of the week throughout the year, however, there can be the exception, in which the tours are abandoned without any prior notice. It is quite understandable because the seafaring can be dangerous in certain situations due to the extream conditions in the sea. The cost of the whale watching tour differs depending on the pick-location and drop-off location of the passengers. for the traveller, who directly arrive at Mirissa harbour must pay US$ 70 per person for the whale watching tour, upon receiving the ticket, which includes all services and taxes.
Whale watching tours are organized by tour operators in Sri Lanka and offered as a standalone tour (whale watching tour) or part of a Sri Lanka road trip.
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