Whale watching in Sri Lanka

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A Blue Whale diving in the waters off Sri Lanka

A Blue Whale diving in the waters off Sri Lanka
photo licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by michael bamford

Sri Lanka has become the latest hotspots for the Blue whale, the largest Animal on earth and the heaviest to ever existed on earth.

Blue whales were killed in thousands for their body fat in the early 1900’s which drove them almost to extinction until the protection by the international community in 1966. The blue whale population which was estimated around 300,000 before the whaling boom had come down to just 650-2000 whales by the time the ban was introduced.  The population growth after the ban as been very slow and a 2002 report estimated a worldwide estimation between 5000 – 12,000 after almost 40 years of protection. The Blue whale is still classified as a Endangered Species.

While the world was counting whales elsewhere a small population of whales around Sri Lanka, was growing unseen and unchecked by everybody due to the 30 years of terrorist war.  After end of the war in 2009, 3  locations around Sri Lanka was found to be bubbling with Blue whales, Ocras (killer whales), Sperm Whales, Pilot Whales, Whale Sharks and large pods of Dolphins.

What is unique about the Blue whales around Sri Lanka are that some colonies remain in the same area through out the year while most whales worldwide travel thousands of kilometers each year  in search of food sources. Therefore whales can be seen through out year in Sri Lanka but there are peaks months where the migrant whales joins the feast.

There are 3 areas which has become world hot spots for Blue whales which is said to have 70% – 90% strike rate based on the time of the season.

A surfacing blue whale

A surfacing blue whale
image source : whalewatching.navy.lk

Trincomalee

The seas of Trincomalee was knows the whale population since 1980s but its commercial viability was not considered until 2009 – end of the war. Today few small boats operates off coast of Trincomalee which is more suitable for watching dolphins. Currently only the Sri Lankan Navy operates a ship with adequate facilities for whale watching. This ship can be booked as a whole or on individual basis. The latest packages and the tour time tables can be found at  whalewatching.navy.lk.

The whale watching season for Trincomalee is May to August and has a strike rate of over 80%.  The strike rate for dolphins are much higher. whales are generally found 6-8 nautical miles East of Trincomalee, about 30 minutes in travel time. Best place for on shore whale watching is the Swami Rock at Konesvaram Kovil.

Dolphin @ southern Sri Lankan waters

Dolphin @ southern Sri Lankan waters
photo licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Gaurika Wijeratne

Mirissa

Mirissa is considered a top spot in the world for watching blue, sperm and killer whales. This is the most popular of the three Whale Watching locations in Sri Lanka probably due to the beautiful beaches and more organized whale watching infrastructure in the area. Other infrastructure and activities required to function as a tourist destination is also been more developed in Mirissa compared to the other 2 locations.

The whale watching season for Mirissa is November to April peaking in around December to April. Some operators will claim a strike rate of over 90% at the peak.  Number of tour operators offer variety of packages with average times of 3-6 hours of sailing. Cost and facilities also vary from operator to operator, so before jumping in to cheapest ride make sure atleast minimum safety is ensured in the boat you ride.

A pod of spinner dolphins leaping out of the water about 15km off the fisheries harbor, Mirissa

A pod of spinner dolphins leaping out of the water about 15km off the fisheries harbor, Mirissa
photo licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 by Dhammika Heenpella / The Images of Sri Lanka

Kalpitiya

Kalpitiya is latest whale watching destination added in to the map. It is only 2 hours drive from the Katunayake Air port and offers a more peaceful atmosphere. Although the density of whales are less than Mirissa, you are bound to encounter large pods of dolphins.

The whale watching season for Kalpitiya is same as Mirissa, which is November to April peaking in around December to April.

Safety

Dolphin @ southern Sri Lankan waters

Dolphin @ southern Sri Lankan waters
photo licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Gaurika Wijeratne

Whale Watching Tours are still a unregulated business. Therefore each operator decides on the safty features of the rides. Also the condition of the boats can vary. Therefore remember the following when planning whale watching expedition

  1. Select the operator carefully. Make sure you a happy with the boat and the life saving equipment
  2. Pick a experienced operator who knows where to go for best viewing
  3. Whales and Dolphins are wild animals. Do not feed them
  4. Do not encourage the pilot/navigator to go closer than necessary. Remember that you are dealing with the largest animal on earth.

 

Also See

Map of  Mirissa

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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.


Travel Directions to Mirissa

Route from Colombo to Mirissa

Though : Southern Expressway
Distance : 150 km
Travel time : 3 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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Posted in Attractions, Wildlife