Located along the ancient silk route and modern shipping routes, Sri Lanka has had the pleasure of being visited by many a foreign traveler dating back centuries. A more recent discovery is that these same shipping routes are also favoured by some much larger visitors: whales!
In the last few decades scientists and environmentalists have discovered that the Sri Lankan coast is visited by various varieties of whales and it is only in the last decade that commercial whale watching has become a popular activity for visitors. So if you are planning to visit the southern coast, along with a trip to the beach also set aside a morning to go see one of the most wondrous creatures on this planet, up close and personal.
Where to go
The southern seas off Dondra Point between Galle and Mirissa play host to a variety of whales. It has been discovered that both pygmy blue whales and sperm whales cross Dondra point during summer and winter migrating to the warmer waters of Southeast Asia. This has made Sri Lanka a hot spot for marine biologists and tourists alike all vying for a sight of the magnificent giant of the deep. In fact, Sri Lanka is one of the top locations in the world where you would have near 100% success seeing a whale during your tour.
There are two other locations in Sri Lanka to see whales, namely Trincomalee and a more recent discovery; Kalpitiya. But the chances of seeing whales in these locations are lower than in the south coast.
Types of whales
The special thing about whales in Sri Lanka is that there are some blue whales (usually the pygmy blue whale who are about 5 meters shorter) who stay in Sri Lankan waters year round to feed and calve. This is not common for whales who are usually a migratory species, marine biologists are still researching this extraordinary phenomena.
There are many varieties of whales but you will most likely see blue whales or sperm whales. If you’re lucky maybe a killer whale or a Baird’s whale
The largest species of mammal in the world are closer to human beings than any other occupant in the ocean, it is therefore important when you go whale watching that you respect these gentle giants. There are many tour companies that offer whale watching tours and have international whale watching standards, be sure to go with a company who abide by these standards and respect these gentle giants in the natural environment.
Selecting your tour operator
There are some tour operators who offer the once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with the whales, however be mindful to only observe and not disrupt.
During your tour you may be in for a treat and see more than just whales! There are usually pods of Spinner dolphins and bottle nosed dolphins swimming along your boat and around the whales themselves.
A few facts about whale watching in Sri Lanka
Best time to see whales: October to April
What time do tours start: usually early morning around 6.30/7am
How long will it take: about 3-5 hours. Whales need deep water to you will have to go towards the horizon for a few hours (so you will be given a small breakfast)
Average price of a tour: approximately USD $50-60
Things to remember: Take a hat and sunscreen, it can get very sunny in the middle of the ocean. If you get queasy and sea-sick make sure that you take some medication