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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Whale Watching in Mirissa

Whales seen on our Trip - Thank you Amy Hong - For more amazing Amy Shots -
Until early last year, I always knew Sri Lanka to be the Land of the Elephant, the Asian Elephant being the second largest land dwelling mammal on the plant. Now the seas of Sri Lanka are known for whales, including the Blue Whale. I can now safely call Sri Lanka the Land of the Elephant and the Sea of the Blue Whale. Making it home to two of largest yet graceful animal on the planet.

Sri Lanka is said to be the best place in the world for whale watching, and the town of Mirissa in the South of Sri Lanka, around 20KM from the city of Galle is supposed to be the best place in the country to see them. That said whale watching is a seasonal activity. However there is something special about the whales of the Sri Lankan territorial seas. These whales tend to stick around the island nation all year round. I found this rather interesting blog regarding the study of these whales, which can be found here. The blog is written by a Sri Lankan born Marine Biologist called Asha de Vos. Asha is doing a great job with the research and for those of you who are interested in knowing more visit her blog . There is also this amazing documentary which features Asha, see below.

Whale watching did not quite kick off till after the end of the civil war in 2009. That all said our Journey started on the 2nd Jan 2012, a giant start to the new year. We joined a group in Mirissa called Club Mirissa. The guys had a lot of bad luck on the day, starting with a dead boat and plastic stuck in the second boats engine. There are many operators in Mirissa however and prices range from around Rs 5000 to Rs 8000. We noticed that the Paradise Club Mirissa boat was much bigger and much more comfortable.

Club Mirissa charged us Rs 5000 for the half day whale watching trip. Which is roughly $50 US per person. The tours generally start around 7AM, and you need to be at the hotel (or pickup points) by around 6 30 AM, that said we did not get to the boat till 6 50 AM as we were travelling from Colombo that morning. Thanks to the new Southern Expressway our journey from Colombo to Mirissa took us around 1 hour 30 Mins. Our scheduled time to leave was 4:30 AM however due to tiredness and lack of sleep we did not quite get up till 4:30 and thus only left home at 5:20AM roughly.

Our Journey to Mirissa from Colombo can be seen in the below video,

As we were travelling just before sun rise, we got to see the full beauty of the land scape around the southern express way, shrouded in mist, with the back drop of an orangy red sky, the sight was rather surreal. As we drove on and exited the highway we could see the sun popping its head out through the distant trees and buildings, and by this point we also had a view of the indian ocean to our right hand side. All in all this drive was one of the most scenic.

Following reaching club mirissa for which the turn off point from the main Colombo Hambantota highway (A2) is very easy to miss. We were swiftly taken to the boat, where before boarding were given sea sickness tablets as many people do get sick due to the constant bobbing of the boat. As this was my first time out to sea I decided not to take any risks with being sea sick.

Our boat like most boats in the harbour was full loaded, we had to provide the Ports Authority with information for insurance purposes (Name, Passport number etc). 

Once the engine trouble which I mentioned previously was resolved (which took the men a good 25 - 30 mins) we finally set off into the deep seas.

One thing I could say is that the men of the boat were very friendly and were telling me a lot of stories about their whale experiences. They were rather pleased to have a local tourist on board and which made it easier for them to communicate, and in turn I translated a lot of stuff for Amy, the journey out to sea took a good 2 hours, as we travelled around 18 Nautical miles out into the indian ocean. 

The trip lasted a good 6 hours, and we did get to see 2 whales, which was to some degree a bit dissapointing given the fact that only the day before the guys had encountered a group of 40 whales, However there are many species of whales in the waters off the coast of Sri Lanka, and as the Blue Whale is an endagered species I think I should be grateful to have witnessed at least two of these magnificent creatures. The boat we set off with joined a group of about 10-15 other boats which were following a pair of whales, as such I think the poor animals may have gotten rather intimidated by all the engine noise.

I found the below video recorded by another tourist, which captures the same journey we took from mirissa into the sea. unfortunately I was not able to record any video due to the lack of battery on my phone ( I have been using my Nokia N8 as my video source for the entire journey).

It is highly recommended to carry sufficient amount of water, any snacks that you may wish and enough sun cream, a set of binoculars a decent camera with a lot of zoom as the whales may not always pop up beside the boat. 

You may find the below websites of interest when planning your whale watching activities

We passed many massive cargo vessels, as for those of you who do not know, the southern tip of sri lanka is the worlds busiest shipping route, where every ship that travels from east to west and vice versa travels through. 

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