Vanessa Williams-Grey continues to Wow us with the amazing whales and dolphins of Sri Lanka, in this her second blog of Sri Lankan whale watching. Be sure to check her introduction to the whale watching community as well.
Saturday 2nd March: Another blazing hot day. We spent 8 hours at sea, again traveling far inside the shipping lanes as these deep waters also contain nutrient-rich upwellings and so quite naturally attract the whales to feed here. It was quite sobering to be aboard a small boat, maybe 12-15 nautical miles from land, and watch massive container ships transiting these waters at some speed. We felt quite vulnerable and were grateful for the skill of our skipper but it was easy to appreciate that the largest creature on Earth is also vulnerable in the face of these giant vessels. Tragically, both blue whales and sperm whales are struck with shocking regularity.
Sightings today included 6 blue whales, a Bryde’s whale, another large pod of spinners (100-200), plus smaller numbers of bottlenose dolphins and Risso’s (this latter species is also known locally as a ‘dragon dolphin’ and was pointed out thus by our skipper). Today’s ‘souvenir’ was an old water bottle filled with bright red blue whale poo, collected for later analysis by our naturalist, Anoma!
Sunday 3rd March: More blue whales - at least 5 and as many as ten, all within the shipping lanes - plus many more dolphins. Some locals have expressed the belief that the whale watch boats need to travel further to find the whales than they did a year or so ago and this is cited by some as evidence that the whales have been displaced offshore and forced to move further into the shipping lanes. Others contend that the whales have always been found there: either way, the presence of endangered whales – and whale watch boats full of passengers – within some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes surely flags up the need for great care to be taken to ensure the safety of all concerned.
Monday 4th March: An early visit from 5 exuberant bottlenose dolphins whetted everyone’s appetite but a sightings lull seemed never ending as eyes strained over a stubbornly whale-less sea. Just as we were starting to feel a little despondent, the noisy exhalation of a blue whale pierced the sea mist and the next hour was spent in the company of half a dozen blue whales, rising and falling lazily about 100 m off our vessel.
As if to apologise for the delay in proceedings, around 200 spinners leapt and twirled as a finale as the boat headed back to port, escorted much of the way by flying fish.
Back ashore and time for reflection and further discussions with the local community. These waters are clearly teeming with whales and dolphins - and whale watching here has undoubtedly improved in the past year or so - but there is still much to be done in order to raise standards across the board and reduce the discrepancy between operators. WDC has long encouraged community-based whale watching in different parts of the world and here at Mirissa, whale watching has offered a beacon of hope to a village devastated by the 2004 tsunami. This tiny community has proved its resilience and, time and again, we heard a real willingness to do the right thing. We’ve been invited to run training workshops for operators and naturalist guides, advise on outreach to tourists, and develop educational resources to add value to trips. We will also input to initiatives to reduce ship strikes in the region. I feel very positive about the future of whale watching here. Our message is a simple one: look after your whales and they will look after you.