According to Marine Biologist Charles Anderson, who has been studying Indian Ocean whales during the past 24 years, Sri Lanka is one of the easiest places to watch blue and sperm whales. In a recent article for LBO, he says: “I think Sri Lanka has enormous potential to be a whale destination. A high concentration of blue whales and sperm whales has been spotted in the seas off Dondra Head along the deep south coast of Sri Lanka during the months of January to April.”
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, chief executive of Jetwing Eco, was responsible for bringing Anderson to Sri Lanka. He said: “We spent most of April going out to the sea, to see marine mammals and we have been very successful,” says. “Our naturalist at the Light House hotel in Galle, Anoma Algiyawadu, went out on 24 occasions up to April 26, and on very one of those occasions, he saw blue whales. Anoma had sometimes seen three, some times five and even ten blue whales, off Dondra point. I went out myself and I too saw blue whales every single occasion, I also saw sperm whales on different occasions.”
Blue whales are possibly the largest animals on earth growing up to some 110 feet in length and weighing up to some 180 metric tons. They feed on krill, a shrimp like marine invertebrate. Sperm whales, the largest carnivore mammals, mostly feed on squid and octopus in the deep sea bed. Naturalists say conditions around the island are good for whale habitat due to the nutrient flow from the country’s river system.
Commercial whale watching in Sri Lanka was first mooted in the 1980s following documentation of whale sightings in the Trincomalee bay by marine biologists of the research vessel The Tulip. “They found out that blue whales and sperm whales were coming into the Trincomalee harbour using a submarine canyon,” Wijeyeratne reveals. Though Trincomalee was earlier tipped to be a whale watching hot spot, security restrictions had shelved projects to develop whale watching tourism in the area.
According to marine biologists, the deep sea off Dondra Head is one of the best locations to watch whales in Sri Lanka because of its close proximity to the coast. “Charles, having studied the hydrographic charts, realized that the shape of the continental shelf around Sri Lanka was such that the best place to see whales was off Dondra Head,” Wijeyeratne said. “Off Dondra Head the continental shelf is just 6 km out and the 100 meter depth line falls to a kilometer and two kilometers very rapidly. “We have seen whales sometimes as little as 40 minutes out to the sea,” he said. “If you head out to sea from Mirissa and travel south of Dondra you are virtually guaranteed to see a blue whale in April,” Wijeyeratne said.