It is a great privilege to be able to see whales in the wild but we did not love the tour we took from Mirissa in Sri Lanka – here’s why
Over recent years we have been on many whale watching tours and loved every minute. I clearly remember my first tour on California’s Monterrey Bay and I remember the tears of joy welling up when I saw my first whale, a pod of orcas, in the wild. On all the tours we have done to date, and we have done more than a dozen by now, I have never felt we were endangering or mistreating the whales. The tour operators have gone out of their way to be respectful to these beautiful and spectacular creatures.
The primary whale touring season from Mirissa is between November and April, with the tours lasting 4 to 5 hours. Most people want to do this tour to see blue whales, the largest mammal on the planet, but there are other species of whales and dolphins to be seen.
All the whale tours from Mirissa leave the port somewhere between 6 am and 7 am as there is a moratorium on whale tours in the afternoons to give the whales a break! It takes a while to get out to the area where the whales are feeding. This is the open ocean so the sea can be quite rough, so if you are prone to seasickness beware and take whatever you need to.
It was a grey, wet day which is not the best conditions for spotting whales – the best way for spotting is looking out for the water spouts that the whales expel from their blowholes. Sadly, we were not the only boat out on the ocean looking for whales, there must have been another 20 or 30 boats out there of different shapes and sizes.
After a short time, our crew spotted a water spout and we were off at speed and were one of the first boats to get to the where the whale was. It turned out to be a Bryde’s whale (I had never seen or at least heard of a Bryde’s whale) which can grow to be 15 m in length and weigh 44 tons. The whale skimmed along the surface and then disappeared below the waves once again. Then all the other tours descended upon us and surrounded the area around where the whale had been- it was very shocking to see.
Next one of the boats spotted another waterspout and off we all headed in pursuit. Soon all of the boats reached the area and slowly meandered around until the whale resurfaced and off we all set. This turned out to be a fin whale, the second-largest whale after the blue whales – which are also common visitors to the area (sadly we did not see one). The gaggle of tour boats ( I think a more appropriate collective name for these boats would be a “menace” of tour boats) formed a circle around the whale. I was getting very pi**ed with the whole experience by this point – in fact, I had turned my camera off not wanting to capture the whales … I wish I had videoed the antics of the tours boats which I found disgusting.
Anyway, after a couple of hours, we thankfully left the poor whales to be and headed back to Mirissa.
As you can tell we were not happy bunnies with the conduct of these tours. Other tourists seemed a lot less bothered than us – which made me all the angrier. Needless to say, I cannot recommend a whale tour during a visit to Sri Lanka – there are much more whale friendly places to go out and observe the magnificent creatures.