There she blows! (Sri Lankan version Part 2)

Continued from here

4.30 dawned dark and bleary, as we hobbled down to congregate at various randomly decided locations before getting together in a loosely knit convoy for the 20 minute drive to Mirissa. Once we in a roundabout manner found Mirissa Water Sports, a stones throw from the harbour; the next step was to provide all our details, ID numbers, address, hair colour, when we last had a shave, etc for the Navy’s benefit. Actually I jest; it was just name and ID number.

Fighting off the rather friendly dogs at the harbour we boarded the two storey boat, the Spirit of Dondra and were issued humongous life-jackets which I quickly discarded (I wouldn’t recommend this to the regular traveler but I have issues with bravado) as we moved out of the harbour. We gathered steam and headed out into the deep blue of the open ocean as Six Pence None the Richer still played in my head and Mirissa gleamed golden and newly minted in the early morning light.

BoardingMirissa Sunrise

 (L-R): Boarding the boat, Mirissa Sunrise

The boat ride seemed to go on interminably, the boat swaying in the swells. While most of my boatmates slumbered on the top deck to catch up from the early start, I gazed around at the sea in a whole new perspective. Being a frequent diver, I spend a lot of time in small boats almost at eye level with the sea. Here I was around 6m above the sea and the grandiosity of the swells had to be seen to be believed, one could easily imagine the kinetic energy generated by those swells to be immense as the giant sheets of deep blue water rippled slowly across our path. 

On the watch

Flying fish skittered across the surface every now and then, these were bigger than what I had seen as well and they flew for meters. On occasion looking into the glare of the sun, a flying fish skimmed so far across the waves, dipping in once to get more momentum that I thought I must have misidentified some kind of sea dwelling bird.

 Mirissa Watersports

Mirissa Water Sports 

The first whale sighting was relatively understated, mostly because most of us missed both the whale and the excitement amongst the MWS boys who shouted directions down to the boat captain as we turned towards the spout. The whale watchers were finally roused from their respective slumbers and cameras were eagerly pointed towards the whale as it whooshed an exhalation, misting the blue horizon as its bulk moved seamlessly, grey through the water. After a few breaths at the surface, the ludicrously small dorsal fin arched through the water as the immense creature, over 30 meters long, propelled itself into a dive, giant flukes cresting through the water as it sounded. The scale of the whale was brought home to me when I saw the pool of still water amongst the swells of the ocean that the gigantic body had created during its dive.

Blue whale breaching
What followed was quite similar to my Californian experience but just nowhere near as cold. The whale dived, fluking as we desperately clicked off as many pictures as possible and then we waited patiently until it surfaced again. The Mirissa and Fisheries Corporation boats’ behavior with the whale was exemplary, quiet engines, staying in the whale’s safe zone and maintaining a minimum 100 meter distance to the whale, except when the whale decided to come closer on one memorable occasion.

Mirissa Watersports & WhaleMirissa Watersports & Whale

L-R: Whale spouting, Mirissa Water Sports and the whale

Unfortunately our experience was hugely marred by some extremely irresponsible (not to mention obviously cheap) tourists who had chartered a local fishing boat to come whale watching. The boat sounded like they had jerry rigged a Tuk Tuk engine and the fishermen had absolutely no respect for the animal, charging up and down and scaring the whale into taking short surface breaks. The irresponsibility of the fishermen is one thing, but the sheer stupidity of the tourists is something that has to be seen to be believed. For the sake of a few thousand rupees theses cheap tourists put the wellbeing of one of the world’s most majestic animals at risk.

Irresponsible Tourists

Irresponsible Tourists

Rant aside we watched the whale for a couple of hours before heading back to shore. The 20 strong crowd variously napped, chatted, ate innumerable biscuits or stared hypnotized at the sea. After a while it occurred to some of us that we were not in fact heading back to shore, unless we were trying to make landfall somewhere in Africa. Consulting the Mirissa boys, it turned out that a shoal of Spinner Dolphins had been sighted and we were heading to check them out. Having previously missed the Spinners at Kalpitiya, I was quite excited about finally seeing some high spirited shenanigans from these famous acrobats of the sea.


Airborne Spinner dolphins

And they didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere on the boat while watching the Spinners was sharply different from when the Blue Whale was surfacing. While the whale with its slow almost languorous movements inspired a more reverent awe at the immensity of its sheer bulk, the Spinners inspired sheer excitement as they zipped breathlessly through the water taking a break once in awhile to do headstands or take flight out of the water. You could almost hear the entire group gasp collectively as they shot past our bow, shimmering silver streaks in the deep blue water, bubbles exploding around them.


Swimming past the boat

To be honest with the immensity of the pod and the non-stop action around I didn’t know where to look and eventually put my camera down and simply enjoyed the show. After about an hour we decided to make a move but a large pod started coming at us with a path crossing directly in front of us. The Mirissa boys killed the engine and we waited patiently for the pod to cross our bow. Unfortunately another fishing boat with tourists on board decided the best way to show their (all foreign) customers the dolphins were to drive directly into the pod. Of course this scared the hell out of the poor dolphins and they submerged, not to be seen again. The stupidity of the tourists and the fishermen had to be seen to be believed. People should really know better.

 Irresponsible Tourists

Irresponsible tourists Part II

Apart from the slightly sour taste in our mouths from the irresponsible tourists scaring the whales and dolphins, the trip was an unbridled success. Unawatune, despite the badly planned development is still not as bad as Hikkaduwa and the bay has a charm that is simply missing in Hikkaduwa. Bishu’s is a delightful place to stay and the Mirissa Water Sports whale watching excursion though a bit basic to those who are used to the more sophisticated excursions in the developed world is still a step in the right direction. If you do go to Mirissa to see the whales, please be responsible and use Mirissa or the Ceylon Fisheries boat and avoid the cheap fishing boats that are destroying the natural heritage that attracts the tourists in the first place.
Whale in the Indian Ocean


Kirigalpoththa said...


Offthebeatentrack said...

Thanks KG, it's an amazing experience!:)

Whale watching sri lanka said...

Thanks for sharing . Great experience of course .
Sri Lanka is one of the best and easiest places for blue whale watching. Take a tour off the southern coast of Sri Lanka to get a close enclosure with the largest animals on earth. Blue whales and sperm whales have been spotted in the deep seas near Dondra Head in this beautiful island of Sri Lanka.

asanga said...

The pioneers of whale watching in Sri Lanka, Mirissa Water Sports have further develop their facilities and taken a fresh start in this season with expanded services.

contact them to have a better and professional whale watching experiences.

Asanga Coorey / Chandi Abeywardana
E-mail: mirissawatersports@gmail.com
E-mail: info@mirissawatersports.com