A whale swimming in blue waters
Whale Watching in Mirissa

Close encounters with animals is an experience which most of the humans cherish. Clearly, with each passing year, an increase of concern and demand for wildlife observation is visible. Evidently, a vast number of people travel to various countries to have, up-close moments with living creatures. Moreover, we can consider it as an international hobby by many. Among them, whale watching has been a major reason for certain countries to rank top as a tourist attraction. And yes, it is the same with Sri Lanka, and it is no secret that Sir Lanka is a paradise for whale watching. Thus, we thought of sharing with you all about this wonderful activity in Sri Lanka. Excited, isn’t it? Continue reading, and delight yourself!

Whale Watching in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a famed nation for its natural resources and habitat. Indeed, people are drawn towards the country for its biodiversity. Similarly, tourists mark it as their must-visit destination. A tour of this magical land will offer you plenty of opportunities to discover pleasure. Out of which, whale watching plays a prominent part in attracting tourists into the country.  Specifically, to see the difficult and the desired Blue Whale, Sri Lanka may turn out to be the most reliable site in the world. Sri Lanka offers you the option of seeing both Blue Whales and Sperm Whales within the country.

Besides, whale watching in Sri Lanka contains a long history. Certainly, in the early 1980s, modern whale watching in Sri Lanka started on the scenic east coast of Sri Lanka, with the sperm whale in Trincomalee to be exact. Beyond the 1000m isobath, these mammals are frequent in these waters. However, you can find the better-known populations in the coastal belts of the east and northwest of Sri Lanka.

When the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego was designated a public place for watching the migration of grey whales, organised whale watching began in the United States. And during its first year,1950, the show attracted 10,000 tourists. It charged clients a 1 dollar trip to see the wales in closer quarters. Eventually, the first water-based whale watching started in the same location in the year 1955. Gradually, the business expanded across the western coast of the United States.

What Makes Whale Watching in Sri Lanka Special?

Whale watching in Sri Lanka is simply special, owing to a number of reasons. Some of them are as follows.

  1. Significance of Ocean life in Sri Lanka for tourists and nature lovers
  2. Sri Lanka being an ideal location for scientific and educational studies on whales
  3. International Researchers’ Study on Sperm whales in Sri Lanka
  4. Mirissa Catching the Hearts of Whale Watchers
  5. Extensive Range of Whales in Sri Lanka

We are sure that you are excited to know more about these specialities of Sri Lanka as a whale watching hotspot. Take it easy, because the following briefs would provide you a better overview with regard.

1. Significance of Ocean Life in Sri Lanka for Tourists and Nature Lovers

The main purpose of close counters with animals is, tourists tend to observe animals in their natural environment. It includes both land-based and water-based surroundings. Among all wildlife tourism, a few popular products are safari, bird watching, marine wildlife watching and great ape watching. Out of which, ocean life has won a significant place in people’s hearts.

However, whale watching is not only about watching these large marine animals in their habitat. But, it is also about a scientific study of  marine mammals in a friendly method. Giving it a practical meaning, it is considered as “Cetacean Watching”. Cetaceans are a collective group of warm-blooded, air-breathing mammals that include whales and their close relatives such as dolphins and porpoises. But the term “whale watching” came into the vocabulary since the earliest cetacean-watching tours went on seeing whales.

Besides, Sri Lanka being an island surrounded by blue waves, these mighty creatures are never any less in the ocean that guards this island . Thus, Sri Lanka happens to be a significant hotspot for nature lovers, specially, for the ones who love Cetacean watching. Hence, it is no secret that the ocean life in Sri Lanka plays a vital role in the Sri Lankan tourism industry as well.

2. Sri Lanka being an Ideal Location for Scientific and Educational Studies on Whales

You can consider whale watching as a scientific and an educational study of the marine species, and Sri Lanka is simply an ideal location for them. Amongst the differently recorded whale species, Blue Whale, Humpback Whale, Bowhead Whale, Gray Whale, Fin Whale and Minke Whale are some of the most popular species among others for various studies, and most of them are around Sri Lanka. Hence, as whale watchers are eager to watch these species, researchers are eager to study and conduct research on them. Thus, Sri Lanka happens to be a wonderful attraction of both whale watchers, and researchers.

3. International Researchers’ Study on Sperm Whales

In 1983, Sri Lanka got into the attention of some international researchers. A research vessel named the Tulip, sponsored by WWF Netherlands, visited Sri Lanka for a year to study Sperm Whales. They carried some of the world’s most prominent marine biologists on board with them. Apparently, the tour was the first-ever systematic study of Sperm Whales carried out using benign methods. In addition, it was also the first time when humans and Sperm Whales swam beside each other. Therefore, this research became one of the highlights in the history, and thus, it placed Sri Lanka in the world as one of the best places for whale watching.

On the other hand, due to these two popular documentary films by Jim Donaldson, Whales Weep Not and Shadows and Footprints, the success of the Tulip expedition reached outside of Sri Lankan shores. This captivated global interest and Sri Lanka soon became a hotspot for whale-watching. However, with the rise of the outbreak of a violent conflict within the country, chances of foreign travellers’ reaching the eastern shores of the island in search of whales eventually reduced, resulting in an end of it.

4. Mirissa Catching the Hearts of Whale Watchers

Eventually, a small coastal town named Mirissa, in Southern Sri Lanka, unexpectedly started catching headlines in 2005 as an access point for whale watching and a perfect spot for seeing Blue Whales. Later, Mirissa ranked in the top ten whale-watching destinations in the world. This greatly helped in increasing the number of people going to see whales. In addition, it helped in emerging the industry, leading to a rise in the number of vessels, operators of boats, and also the outer appearance of these boats. Not long enough until, tourists began to flee into the country to live an amazingly motivational experience.

5. Extensive Range of Whales in Sri Lanka

There are nearly 80 species of whales in all oceans throughout the world. Out of them researchers have identified 26 species in and around the seas of Sri Lanka till date. Due to Sri Lanka’s location within the boundaries of the Protected Zone of the International Whaling Commission in the waters of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is increasingly becoming a preferred island destination for whale watching with sightings of Baleen and Toothed Whales.

Few of the whales spotted in Sri Lanka are as follows.

  • Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
  • Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
  • Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
  • Killer Whale (Orcinus Orca)
  • Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
  • Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
  • Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera brydei)
  • Pygmy Sperm Whale (Kogia breviceps)
  • Dwarf Sperm Whale (Kogia simus)
  • Melon Headed Whale (Peponocephala electra)
  • Ginkgo-Toothed Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon ginkgodens)
  • Southern Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon planifrons)
  • Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
  • Pygmy Killer Whale (Feresa attenuata)
  • False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens)
  • Short-Finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)

Some of these species are permanent residents, while some others visit occasionally around Sri Lankan waters. Besides, let us go through the section below and get to know some more fascinating facts about a few whale species found in Sri Lanka.

The Blue Whale

The Blue Whale is a marine mammal belonging to the baleen whales. The saddest thing is that you can find the Blue Whale in the list of endangered species. However, the Blue Whale is the largest existing mammal in the world. It reaches up to 30 meters in length and around 170 tonnes or more. Precisely, its tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant. Occasionally, they are swimming in small groups, but mostly found alone or in pairs.

The amazing thing about the Blue Whale is that, for an average of 30 minutes, they can hold their breath underwater before they have to surface for air. They have no nose, and they can’t breathe through their mouth. Therefore, they rely on their blow-holes to breathe. They spout the air along with lots of water out of their blow-holes when they surface. Furthermore, they stay onshore dipping in and out of the water. They continue this around three to four times, breathing in and out. Finally, before making that beautiful dramatic dive back down, they take one last long breath to go in search of food.

The Bryde’s Whale

Even though their total length varies from 45 to 50 feet, these mammals are moderate in size. The Bryde’s whale also belongs to the same group as Blue Whales and Humpback Whales and is a Baleen Whale. A significant characteristic is that there are twin blowholes in them. Moreover, they have no teeth, and two rows of baleen plates in this genus.

The Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) or Cachalot is the largest toothed whale. In addition, it is the largest toothed predator, standing at an average length of 16 meters (52 ft). For prey that primarily consists of squid, it has the capacity to plunge down to 2250 meters.

Best Places for Whale Watching in Sri Lanka

One will experience the beauty of Sri Lankan territorial waters in Indian ocean by being part of a whale watching tour and will have a unique opportunity of a close encounter with the largest living mammals and spinning dolphins. However, the below places are the most popular for whale watching in Sri Lanka.

  1. Mirissa
  2. Trincomalee
  3. Kalpitiya

Let us have a brief idea about the above places where you indulge yourself in a wonderful whale watching experience in Sri Lanka.

1. Mirissa

Mirrisa is the most secure location for whale watching in Sri Lanka. It has a ninety percent chance of witnessing whales in the right season with scenic geographical features. Most of the boat trips for whale-watching begins at 6:30 a.m. However, it depends on the weather and sea conditions on that specific day. The trip length varies on a regular basis. The round trip takes an average of 3-5 hours, including 40 minutes to 1 hour of whale watching time. The recommended peak time of the year is December to April, during the North-East Monsoon.

Besides, at present, whale watching in Mirissa has reached its highest level, becoming the No. 01 hot spot in the world for sighting Blue Whales and other species of whales at a competitive rate and in a relatively short period of time.

2. Trincomalee

Around 6 to 8 nautical miles east of Trincomalee, approximately, 30 minutes by boat, you have the ability to observe Blue Whales and at times they can be visible from the ground. You can take a cruise and head out to sea for about half an hour, and you have a ninety percent chance of seeing Blue Whales, Dolphins, Turtles, and even Sperm Whales. As for more options, quick harbour cruises (1 hr), short cruises (3 hrs) and long cruises (5hrs) are available. Best time to visit Trincomalee for whale watching is from May to September.

3. Kalpitiya

Kalpitiya is one of the lesser-known locations for whale watching. But, you are more likely to see a Sperm Whale and if you are lucky enough a Blue Whale as well. At sunrise, most trips are starting. However, you can last them up to three hours. It is outside the monsoon season that the safest time to visit is when the sea is at its calmest. Best time to visit Kalpitiya for whale watching is from November to March.

Guidelines for Whale Watching

The Sea Mammals Regulations (Observation, Supervision and Control), No. 1 of 2012 officially controls the Whale watching in Sri Lanka. The regulation specifies that a licensed guide on board should be issued for all marine mammal viewing vessels. To get the license, necessary conditions should be stipulated by the regulations, under which an operator can be allowed to take tourists to Sri Lankan waters to see marine mammals. This should be done with a focus on safety measures and vessel registration.

Besides, let us go through some of the safety measures you can follow during Whale Watching.

  • Some of the adherence that you should practice during a whale watching is that the vessel must not suddenly alter its speed or course.
  • The vessel should not travel in front of or behind the mammals when observing the mammals.
  • You should also take note that the vessel does not obstruct the migratory routes of such mammals at any time.
  • Furthermore, once you have detected sea mammals, you need to steadily decrease the vessel’s speed until the vessel has reached a distance of 400 meters.
  • Moreover, you should turn off the vessel’s engine from a distance of 100 meters from whales. And at no point should the vessel be closer than 100 meters from whales.

Concerning other mammals, the vessel must not travel closer than 50 meters from such mammals. Additionally, people involved in sea mammal observation should not be allowed to reach the sea or do anything hazardous to sea mammals. However, diving can be acceptable, under special circumstances and with the consent from the relevant authorities. In order to attract them closer to the vessel, no artificial food products, light and sound waves and any other means of attracting sea mammals should be used.

Tips For Whale Watching In Sri Lanka

Some experienced whale watchers would like to give you a few pieces of advice to bring yourself water and a light snack. However, Some boats may provide simple breakfast and drinking water. In addition, we recommend you to bring a hat, sunglasses and sun cream. However, at times it could get a little cold out at sea, so a coat or a jacket would be an option. A well-charged camera will make you comfortable for hours. Similarly, carrying a few seasick pills with you, just in case you might suffer from seasickness would be more comfortable as well.

Whale Watching Agencies in Sri Lanka

There is a wide choice of whale watching tour operators. However, all of them charge more or less the same price. As with most tourist attractions in Sri Lanka, over the years, prices have gradually increased. A whale-watching trip per person is approximately around 6,000 Sri Lankan rupees (about $42 / £30). Out of all, the below list shows you a few whale watching tour agencies.

  • Sunrise dolphin watching experience and Bar reef snorkelling – Kalpitiya with a starting price of sixty-six dollars.
  • Whales and Dolphins Watching Tour Trincomalee with a starting price of forty one point three dollars.
  • Immersive dolphin and whale watching mission on a secret boat – Trincomalee with a starting price of One thirty-seven dollars.
  • Whale Watching Mirissa with Eagle Eye with a starting price of fifty dollars.

All the agencies are undoubtedly keen on providing their customers, the most comfortable and the best whale watching experience of a lifetime. Whale watching is a waiting game and a matter of patience for all sorts of safaris. A good company will know the signs and the ideal spots for whale sightings to look out for. Few of the destination management companies promote whale watching, once-a-lifetime opportunity with confidence around the globe.

Whale Watching in Sri Lanka Vs Sri Lankan Economy

With the passage of time, it expanded across several more countries around the globe, which helped a few countries to achieve a strong income. The whale watching industry has become a billion-dollar annual company since its establishment. It helps to employ thousands of individuals and serves millions of whale watchers every year. Out of the few countries, the paradise island ‘Sri Lanka’ is considered to be highly benefited by whale watching tourism.

The reason is that it helps the economy by bringing more capital into the country from the additional tourism boost. In the year 2005, Sri Lanka picked up whale watching and in 2009 a wider access to a few coastal beaches in the Indian Ocean island was ensured. Whale-watching opportunities in Sri Lanka in the early 1990s were few, as both facilities and access were rare. Meanwhile, whale watching includes whales and whale watchers, such as visitors, which were very few at that specific period of time.

Negative Impacts of Whale Watching

The effect of cetacean noise pollution is largely unknown. There are reported instances of whales going further out to sea, where whale watching has been especially intense, and animals changing their actions when boats are nearby, such as from foraging to social interaction to resting. It is uncertain with such findings how important these small changes could be to the lives of cetaceans. Are they mere irritations or do they affect the state of health of the animal, its ultimate survival or its reproductive capacity? Answers to them are yet unidentified.

However, initiatives to manage how individuals behave around cetaceans have been implemented. The first is to limit the disturbance that the presence of whale watchers may cause. The majority of these are implemented with whale-watching in mind, based on boats. The distance the craft can reach, the time they can spend with the mammal, and the number of boats present at a time becomes limited. So, with all these guidelines, and rules set, there are very limited chances to bring high negative impacts owing to whale watching. Yet, it is a fact that should be constantly supervised.

The Bottom Line

The specific idea of whale watching is the act of witnessing whales and dolphins in their natural surroundings. Humans embark on an opportunity of whale watching, to observe the marine mammals live undisturbed in their natural habitat. While on whale watching you would eyewitness the whales casually gliding past you and the dolphins would put on a show playfully. Undoubtedly, it is a wonderful experience to witness.

However, there is a growing interest among visitors, naturalists and enthusiasts in watching whales. Besides, for all of us, it is an opportunity of a lifetime to watch whales jump acrobatically at sea. Moreover, around the globe, Sri Lanka is a prominent location for whale watching and you can consider this as one of the best reasons to visit Sri Lanka. All things considered, among all the ultimate voyages around the world in search of cetaceans, Sri Lanka with no doubt offers you the best whale watching experience along with its best services.