Another peaceful morning and you are floating in the blue serenity of the Indian Ocean, Azure blue skies and prospecting sea gulls flock around a feeding spot. Eagerly waiting to get a glimpse of the “big blue”, you are on a sunrise excursion-boat waiting to see the tell-tale ripples; forerunners of a sighting of the world’s largest and loudest animal on earth.
While you wait for the “big ones”, the Humpback, Sperm and Blue Whales, the ocean serves up portions of appetizers; a couple of schools of playfully smiling mischievous Bottle Nosed, Risso’s and the long-snouted Spinner Dolphins, a modest Bryde’s Whale and a couple of stately Manta Rays. These beautiful creatures in their natural habitat bring some of the most astonishing yet humbling experiences to the watcher. Adding to the exciting agenda is the beautiful whale-shark over 8 meters in length circles the boat a couple of times as it feeds off the krill which is abundantly found in these waters.
Ideal locations for whale and dolphin watching
Whale and Dolphin watching off the Southern, Eastern and North West coast of Sri Lanka is a truly wonderful experience. Some twenty six species of the Catecea order which are warm-blooded, air breathing marine mammals can be seen in the seas of Sri Lanka.
The deep waters found in these three spots is a result of the continental shelf being close to the shoreline. The deep water in these spots give the mammals protection and a steady flow of nutrients brought in from the one hundred and five river systems that flow into the ocean around Sri Lanka. The South sea off Dondra Head (the south-most point in Sri Lanka), and another two ideal locations are Trincomalee on the East coast and the Peninsula of Kalpitiya on the North West coast, which boasts a lavish display of Whales (especially Sperm Whales) and Dolphins.
The South of Sri Lanka is probably one of the world's best locations in the world for watching Blue and Sperm Whales. The ideal location here, is the stretch of ocean South of Dondra Head from the lovely UNESCO World Heritage-listed-city of Galle up to the quaint fishing village and beach resort Mirissa just 40km east of Galle. Mirissa has a beautiful harbor with its many colorfully decorated fishing boats, coconut trees, enticing sandy beaches, bars, hotels and cafes.
At this point, the continental shelf is at its slimmest where the ocean reaches one kilometer depth just six kilometers away from the South of Dondra. The reason why Blue and Sperm Whales are sighted here is attributed to this geographical phenomenon as Sperm and Blue Whales would usually dive to this depth for feeding on the abundant marine-life including Krill found in these deep waters.
The Peninsula of Kalpitiya:
The seas of the Kalpitiya Peninsula in the Puttalam district on the north west of the island, are ideally suited for watching became known for its large pods of Spinner Dolphins and Sperm Whales.
Known for its beautiful seas and gorgeous shorelines, it is also famous for being one of the deepest natural harbours in the world. Here, a submarine canyon that falls into this area, makes it an ideal location for Blue Whales that are known to venture close to the shore. However all things considered, the Southern seas in Mirissa are still the better location for sighting Blue Whales.
Most whale watching excursions start from the Mirissa Fishery Harbour in the South and in the North West, the Alankuda Beach in Kalpitiya offers many such excursions all having experience and equipment in boats and crew.
Best times for Whale and Dolphin watching
The ideal season for whale and dolphin watching in Mirissa in the South and Kalpitiya in the North West, is between November and April when seas are calmer. On the East coast, Trincomalee is ideal for Whale and Dolphin watching from June to September.
December to January, March and April are generally peak times for Whale movement. Whales pass the southern tip of Sri Lanka eastward to the Bay of Bengal during January and in April, they travel westward past the Southern tip of Sri Lanka to the Maldives and the Arabian Sea around the Horn of Africa. February and March are the peak times in Trincomalee for the arrival of Whales.
The best attractions and some brief descriptions
Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus):
The largest animals ever known to have lived on Earth with lengths up to 100 feet (30 meters), these mammals weigh in excess of 200 tons and have twin blow-holes with the female being larger than the male.
Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus):
The largest toothed whale, with an average length of around 16 meters, feeds on squid. The Sperm Whale’s ambergris (an intestinal excretion) sought for its role in the fragrance industry where it is used in the manufacture of high-end perfumery.
Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera brydei):
A member of the baleen family, feeds on plankton, crustaceans, and schools of fish, reaching lengths of up to around 50 feet (15 meters).
The Killer whale or Orca (Orcinus Orca):
Is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, some feeding on smaller fish, and other marine mammals. Ranging in lengths of up to around 30 feet (10 meters) the can reach speeds in excess of 35 mph (50 kmph).
Pilot whales Globicephala macrorhynchus:
Are cetaceans with a body length of around 16 feet (5 meters) or more. Feeding mainly on octopus, squid and small fish, living in groups of up to 30 or more.
Bottle Nose Dolphin (Tursiops truncates):
Is an intelligent marine mammal growing to around 3 meters (9 feet) in length. They live in groups called pods, feeding on smaller fish or schooling fish. They use a location technique called ‘echolocation’ sending ultrasound waves to locate food and also to navigate.
Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris):
Ranging from 1.5 to 3 meters in length they feed on small deep-ocean fish, squid and shrimp found 650 to 1,000 feet below surface. Their common name is linked to the energetic spins they perform during social encounters.
Risso's Dolphin (Grampus griseus):
Risso's dolphins are a sociable species, living in groups of 3-30 but have also been known to form much larger schools numbering thousands. Their agile leaps, fluke and flipper slapping are fun to watch. They feed on squid and a variety of fish.