Whale Watching in Mirissa. Traffic in Mid Sea.

It is a clear and beautiful day. We set off from our overnight abode in Galle en route to Mirissa. As we speed along, the sight of the sunrise is breathtaking. The boats against this backdrop are picture perfect and we stop for a few minutes to take photographs.

Forty five minutes later, we arrive at the Mirissa Fisheries Harbour, where the boatman and his crew are waiting for their passengers to arrive. Mirissa, is a beautiful crescent shaped beach located in the Southern coast of Sri Lanka and approximately 90 miles from Colombo and 200 miles from the Equator. The Harbour is ringed by boats tethered to the jetty. A lone fisherman sits under a canopy mending his nets. Seagulls and crows jostle with stray dogs for scraps of fish. The boatmen wait impatiently for their passengers. Those who have arrived on time are eager to set off.

All the boats are basically designed the same. A lower deck has wooden seats and the upper deck has padded floor cushions to sit on. The view is better from the upper deck although the lower deck is more suitable for those prone to seasickness. I get settled on the deck above.

The boatman informs us that whales were spotted yesterday. With fingers crossed, we leave a few minutes past 7 am. The sea is relatively calm and rising sun soon dehydrates us. But less than 30 minutes later, there is a shout as someone spots a waterspout of a whale. Twelve boats rush through the water in an attempt to get up close and personal with the giant of the seas- the Blue Whale.

The whale attempts to rise out of the water but is quick to duck back in as the boats crowd around it. The fleet of boats idles in wait.  But the animal has disappeared into the deep sea. In the next couple of hours we spot three more Blues and a couple of Sperm Whales.  But every time, the animals find themselves surrounded by the boats.

Much has been written about the crowding of these whales by boatmen who have no consideration for the well being of these animals. Instead, they are hell-bent on getting as close as possible and leaving them hardly any room to surface.

Blue whales are thought to be the largest animal ever to live on the Earth reaching up to lengths of about 100 feet and weighing about 100-150 tons. Their gray-blue color, often with a mottling of light spots is clearly visible. Whales, like dolphins use their lungs to breathe air and need to surface. They breath through a blow hole on the top of their heads which sometimes shows up as a spray or mist, called a spout. These blow holes are surrounded by muscles which are closed when the whale or dolphin is under water and opens when the animal is at the surface and needs to breathe.

The Sperm Whales live in pods and are known to reach to 60 feet in length.  This toothed whale has the largest brain of any animal weighing up to about 20 pounds. It got its name because of the dark waxy substance found on its head. This waxy liquid called spermaceti is produced in its lower intestines which protects the whales from giant squid stings, its major food.

I remember doing this same trip almost five years ago. There were far less boats and the sightings were much better. On that particular day, we saw 11 Blue and Sperm Whales, Spinner Dolphins, a rare Yellow Banded sea snake and a pair of mating sea turtles. On many occasions we saw the whales emit the vertical spout from its blow hole and then gracefully showing off its spectacular tail fluke before diving back into the water.

After about three hours out at sea, we return to the Harbour. On the way back we spot a sea turtle basking on the surface. There are no dolphins in sight. Why am I not surprised?

However, the Harbour and its surrounds look beautiful on this perfect Sunday morning. The other boats also arrive, one by one. It’s time for us to head back home.

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