Gentle Giants of the Deep off the Mirissa Coast

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It was on a clear morning that I put on my outdoor attire with some extra care. A boat trip out on the sea was something quite new to me. And this was a day I had long awaited. I applied generous amount of sun-protection lotion and wore a T-shirt and pants. I then put on a wide brimmed straw hat with an elastic band under my chin, and large sunglasses. I felt out of place with my enormous hat, bumble-bees and long pants, but I decided to brave it anyway. The fear of sun-burn was enough to make me take extreme precautions. We had an early breakfast at about 5.30 a.m. as was advised, to prevent sea-sickness. I had little appetite because I was already filled with excitement. But I forced down a little food anyway. With my binoculars, camera and a small satchel of essentials slung across my shoulders, I set off with a few other Whale enthusiasts from the Paradise Beach Club.

I had always been drawn towards Elephants, those enormous and intelligent land-mammals. Until a few years ago, seeing a whale or a dolphin in reality would have been quite impossible for me. The only opportunity to see them was the Discovery channel documentaries that, I must say, are very finely produced. My impression of these large marine-mammals have been jaw-dropping awe and fascination from the very start.

With expectations high for a sighting due to the prevailing fair weather, we all gathered at the Mirissa habour at around 06:30 hrs. The weather looked indeed promising and the sea was inviting in shades of blue and silver. Paradise Beach Club, Mirissa had provided us with generous supplies for the trip, including bottles and snacks, medication for sea-sickness, and above all an experienced crew and a life-guard. There were six of us passengers although the boat could comfortably accommodate up to eight, excluding the crew. As we boarded the vessel we discussed about whales,why non-intrusive whale watching is important and the safety precautions that must be taken during a trip such as this. The boat was well equipped with with GPS navigation, fish finder, communication equipment, life rings and also fire extinguishers. Finally around 07:00 hrs the crew helped us put on our life-jackets securely and we sailed into the ocean in anticipation.

I remember the breeze caught us unguarded as we set off, and we struggled to adjust our head gear into position. As we sailed I clutched onto the railings. Watching the waves splash against the boat as the boat swayed and rocked was hypnotizing. The more experienced travelers chatted away cheerfully about the trip in general. Probably seeing my awkward posture one crew member very kindly assured me that it was a calm sea. Though I had doubts about this my better senses prevailed when I reminded myself that this was just the fear of a novice sailor. We sailed on for about two to three kilometers into the ocean in the hope of spotting some whales. The sheer beauty was breathtaking and we moved on at a slow pace, enjoying the calm waters. We spotted various fishes and a few turtles along the way. It was around 08:00 hrs when we caught the first glimpse of the Giants.

“Hey! look over there!!” exclaimed one of the passengers excited. We all reached for our binoculars as the guide identified a small pod of sperm whales.

Sperm whales are apparently seen quite frequently around these parts. I focused my binos on the dark shapes that were bobbing up and down about 300 meters away. As we got a little closer we could see them more clearly. They emerged and disappeared among the waves like submarines, but more gracefully.

Then suddenly one of them breached the surface water so gently, without any splash, and while we all held our breath fascinated at the sight it dove back into the deep blues, with a signature sign, it’s tail pointing skywards. This agile movement is surprising considering its sheer humongous size. One by one all three giants entertained us, slipping out and in. I had never imagined such emotions swelling inside me. I realised then that I had forgotten to use my camera. We stayed on for about 30 minutes more a mere 100 meters away. I alternated between frantically clicking away and watching them in awe. The Blue Whale is the largest species on the Planet. Sperm whales are smaller in size but no less exciting. We sought deeper understanding, exchanging each other’s knowledge in low tones. Desperate to savour the moment, we didn’t feel the time fly by.

Whales are one of the most intelligent species after human beings on the Planet. The Dolphin, who is a part of the whale or Cetacean family is by far the brightest. The bottle-nose is believed to be second in intelligence only to us humans. Someone said that the spinner dolphin is frequently found here in Mirissa, but sadly we missed them on this occasion. If only these animals could speak, I thought as I watched, maybe we could learn a few things from them about our own aquatic past!

We departed from the pod with mixed feelings of supreme happiness, and a sense of sadness for their plight. The whales are threatedned by loss of habitat due to man-made environmental threats, and last but not least – global warming. I had but one thought. That I use this inspiring experience to educate others about the importance of protecting these intelligent and facinating animals. Not only to protect Nature and Wildlife in general, but also to protect these awesome creatures that are true miracles of Mother Nature.

Story | Nilu Rajapakse
Photography | Danushka Senadheera

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