Get up close and personal with the largest animal on the earth on Sri Lanka’s east coast
The coasts of Sri Lanka are one of the finest places in the world to see the various species of whales and dolphins. Unknown to many, lots of fish and sea mammals migrate close to the Equator seeking the warmth of the sea water, filling the environment with diverse species. So when it comes to Trincomalee on the east coast of the island nation, the adventure gets doubled. A rapidly growing industry; whale watching is helping tourists get acquainted with the many species of whales and dolphins that abound off its shores.
The eastern coastline of Sri Lanka is dotted with bays, lagoons, estuaries and submarine canyons, creating a variety of marine environments. It sustains an assorted diversity of marine life, including at least 11 species of whales. Once you are aboard the fibre-glass motor boat, you will first be given the all-important safety briefing, before departing the bay. To the north is the great mass of Swami Rock, with its historic Portuguese-Dutch fort still standing guard over the fifth-largest natural harbour in the world.
Whale-watching has always been a seasonal activity. Here on the eastern seaboard, the season is from March to November. Blue, Bryde’s and Eden’s whales, all visit the nutrient-rich waters of the outer harbour at this time in search of food, while Spinner dolphins are seen almost every morning, particularly near Round Island. July-August in Trincomalee is just about perfect for whale-watching.
Within an hour of departing the shore, you start hearing the first whale blows. They are easy to spot. Soon you will find yourself alongside a pod of whales. For many like me who had their first encounter with the sea creatures in the waters of Sri Lanka, a chorus of gasps and delighted exclamations rose from within.
You will also be greeted with whales in groups of one to five, with many of them surfacing and making fluke-up dives, giving photo enthusiast lifetime photo opportunities. As we were the only whale-watching vessel in the vicinity, we encountered quite a few displays of moves such as lobtailing – lifting the flukes free of the water and slapping them down on the surface while the rest of it remains submerged.
Soon we reached the southernmost point of our voyage, watching a steady stream of whales pass by us. Some curious people on the deck wanted to get into the water, but swimming with whales is a restricted activity in Sri Lanka (You can only do that with some special permission). We spent another hour or so cruising the harbour in search of Bryde’s and Eden’s whales or whale sharks until the wind began to rise.
By: Nisal Wickramasinghe