Top 10 Memorable Ocean Experiences of 2011: No. 07– Sperm whale at Degalmeda

It was a typically hot surface interval in mid April. The water had been a beautiful blue on the Degalmeda reef and we were getting rid of our excess nitrogen in preparation for heading back down in a bit. Nilanga and I were at the bow while Daniel and Nishan were at the stern having our respective conversations.

Our fearless boatman, Nilanga

It was during a lull in our conversation that I heard what sounded like a set of hydraulic brakes going off in the distance, Nilanga heard it too and we paused and looked northward from where the sound had come. There was nothing but the sunlight glinting off the waves as Colombo wavered in the heat haze. Shrugging our shoulders we returned to our conversation when the sound came again, this time loud enough to draw Nishan and Daniel’s attention as well.

We stared northwards again shading our eyes against the harsh sun. The sound was repeated a third time and this time we saw the spout and gleaming black as the sperm whale spouted about 200 meters north of the boat. This was quite a surprise as you can imagine and unfortunately we spent far too much following the whale’s path in disbelief before we got our masks and fins on.

We quietly slid into the water as the whale came parallel to our boat, the black back and tiny fin gleaming in the sun as the water slid up over my mask. Unfortunately we paid a price for our tardiness in getting our gear on as the current was flowing northwards while the whale was already a bit south of our boat. The three of us, cameras at the ready watched helplessly as the whale powered past us effortlessly, turned westward and headed out to sea. An awe inspiring if somewhat embarrassing moments


Photo of the Week (07/27/2012): A Blissful Octopus

A long, long overdue photo of the week. Octopi in Sri Lanka are generally quite skittish so I did a double take when I saw this octopus sitting serenely on a rock a few feet away from me at the Wall while diving in the Andamans. Getting closer to the fellow, I realized why it was so oblivious to me as I could see a cleaner wrasse diligently working it over.


The octopus was so obviously enjoying himself that he didn't even budge the closer and closer I got. In the end I got bored first as with the feeding action on the other side of the rock, there was only so much time I was willing to devote to a tripped out octopus.


Top 10 Memorable Ocean Experiences of 2011: No. 06 – Big G in the Shadows

Big fish are rare nowadays. Even in the times of Arthur C. Clarke’s early ocean explorations, the big groupers were getting hit with unsporting (not to mention illegal) spear fishermen donning tanks and hunting these gentle giants out of existence. Every now and then I see a grouper that’s a couple of feet long and I get inordinately excited. It is sobering to think that 30-40 years ago these would not have been of much note.

For a big fish to survive now, it has to be canny and clever. It is literally survival of the fittest to ensure it doesn’t end up with a spear from the likes of Kalu Mahathaya and Ikkiya amidships. There is such a fish on a wreck in Colombo and a sighting of it is a rare treasure. I have seen him a few times, most memorably on a night dive (more to come on that later) but the majority of the handful of sightings had been from a great distance and for a fleeting moment.

The closest I got to him in 2011 was one day towards the latter of the season. It was one of my occasional dives with Colombo Divers, as PP was accompanying me and didn’t have the benefit of owning her own gear. We stuck behind the dive guide and the main group and as we rounded the stern of the ship, the guide turned back to me and excitedly gestured that she had seen something big. They peered down and then continued on as it was obvious as whatever they had seen was not there anymore. I couldn’t spot anything either in the bluish haze.

As we came up behind them I looked down and saw it. Obviously thinking that the divers had moved on, Big G stuck his head out of his hiding place and looked out. On spotting us, by this time I had PP’s hand in a firm grip and was pointing her attention downwards, the grouper immediately retreated back. Big G had apparently thought that the divers had moved on and decided to check if everything was clear providing us with a superb sighting. The one thing that stood out about this was the sense of scale. The overhang under which the grouper was hiding was one I was very familiar with so it was quite something to realize how big this fish was. One of the last giants of our waters. May Big G continue to dodge the spears and provide us with more thrilling sightings in the future.