Whale watchers’ paradise

- www.ft.lk

By Chitral Jayatilake
Kolitha was out at sea, at the brink of the southern whale watching season as early as in October, with a special guest – ex-WWF photographer Roger Hooper on safari with Nature Trails.
Roger’s visit to Yala National Park has been awesome, with an abundance of leopard sightings. Getting him out to sea this early was always a challenge hence I picked the Resident Naturalist at Chaaya Tranz Kolitha for this assignment.

Eight miles at sea, the first blue whale appeared and gave Roger the experience he dreamt of for many years. Within minutes the team spotted a second blue whale, making Roger’s island safari complete with all species on a checklist ticked off to perfection.
Later in December, many boats rushed to Mirissa and the season was steaming ahead.
Sri Lanka’s whale watching industry now in its fourth season is well established itself as a wildlife viewing spectacle in the world. Mirissa has caught the cetacean world’s attention and we see a steady flow of whale watching tourists flocking to the south in their eagerness to see the largest animal that ever lived on earth.
Midway through the festive season, a team of journalists arrived at the Tranz, which needed personal attention. Annouchka was at hand at the hotel while I drove down to take the special guests on a whale watching cruise.
The drive down the Southern Expressway wasn’t as enjoyable as it generally is, given the wet weather. We set sail at 0645 hrs and the bad weather followed us out to sea. High swells and a steady drizzle aren’t ideal whale watching conditions but we braved on for 30 minutes and wham, the first whale sighting with Mirissa’s coastline still in sight with full details.
This blue was a great performer, surfacing and diving while almost swimming in circles around the boat for over 60 minutes; it was a great morning’s show to make up for the bad weather. It was the most efficient whale watching session I’ve done in the south with the entire session taking two hours, pictures in the bag and a set of happy journalists for a wet morning’s session.
The last week of December was exciting at Mirissa, the season’s first sighting of sperm whales made by Sampath from Chaaya Tranz on the 30th of December.
Seventeen sperm whales logging next to the vessels made a great experience. The social behaviour of sperm whales and their curious nature brings them very close to boats; they turn sideways and look at the whale watchers, almost investigating the boats.
The season down south is underway while the Nature Trails team’s busy gearing up for a similar experience up in Trinco later this year.
The season in Trinco begins later than in Mirissa, and the Nature Trails team based at Chaaya Blu is ready to welcome these great ocean travellers for yet another season.
The team up in Trinco headed by Daya is excited about this year’s prospects; with the monsoon easing out and conditions beginning to turn ideal, a long whale watching season is underway – your island safari now doesn’t end at the beach, an array of marine mammals awaits you beyond the shores of Sri Lanka.

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