Whale Breaching At Mirisa

by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

February 9th, 2014


One of the great attractions about Sri Lanka is that it is also one of the world’s primary destinations for whale watching. Little known about until after the end of the civil war, a deep underwater trench exists off the south and east coast of the island, and is the closest subterranean trench to land in the world. Big whales like deep trenches, and it is thought that the canyons encircling Sri Lanka extend all the way across the Bay of Bengal and further west to the Arabian Sea. Whales use this as a passageway from Arabia and India through to Sri Lanka, where it is thought many calve just off the coast at Trincomalee.

The species list includes the Blue Whale – the largest mammal currently living on Planet Earth, as well as Sperm whales (written about here in an earlier post on this blog) and some 14 other species of Cetacean in these waters – not to mention 16 species of Dolphin. For that reason, whale watching is becoming a sought after activity on the South coast of the island – even the Navy gets in on the act by offering cruises in massive catamarans.

I do not wholeheartedly approve – the entire whale watching industry in Sri Lanka appears unregulated and with little concern for the animals. Seeing catamarans chase where whales are thought to be is a disturbing sight, and the Government needs to act – there has been talk already of whale behaviour changing in these waters and this needs to be addressed if they are simply not to just move further out into deep waters and beyond the range of tourist craft. I shall be looking at ways I can get involved in some form of conservation and guidance – otherwise there will be no whale watching tourism within ten years.

However, I did go out recently, hoping to Blue Whales and the day was threatening to be rather unproductive until by a lucky fluke I happened to be pointing my camera in the direction right at the time a Brydes Whale breached itself and shot out of the ocean like a harpoon. That is a considerable feat involving a huge amount of energy – these whales grow up to 40 feet long and can weigh up 25 tons. It is not known why whales do this – some theories suggest some sort of prey control (Brydes feed on anchovies) or even communication. Regardless, it is a spectacular sight.

I shall be reviewing my options when it comes to whale watching in Sri Lanka and choosing sympathetic and ecologically minded tours. When I do I’ll post about who to use here, and hopefully with the still to be gained experience of spotting the elusive Blue. For now however, seeing a Brydes Whale breach itself has got to be one of the most spectacular natural wonders I have yet seen.