Most of us have seen the largest mammal on land but only a few that have seen the largest ones in the world. Maybe Dory of the Nemo movie fame – would be one of the few who has not just seen one but was ingested by it too. Of course, she was promptly spouted out and lived to tell her tale. I am glad to share that I am one of the few to join the ranks of Dory – albeit minus the ingestion. The tale of my first and only sighting of the Blue whales in Sri Lanka is a memorable one. Whale Watching in Mirissa turned out to be an unusual safari on water. A lovely experience that taught me a lot about these gentle giants of the world.
With this post, I embark on my journey along the South-Western coast of Sri Lanka. This was a trip that I made just before the 2019 Sri Lanka blasts. I meant to write the series earlier but was waiting for the travel restrictions to be lifted. Now that things are back on track, I am sure you guys are ready for your own unique experience. What better to start with than one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka – Whale Watching in Mirissa. Rare for it is not every beach experience that treats you to this. So get ready to plan for your own travel as you embark on this virtual sea safari with me.
A Fact File on Blue Whales
You might have seen a Killer Whale or an Orca in various water shows. They might seem huge but a Blue Whale is a whole new deal. Put 3 buses and a jeep in a line and measure it. It will roughly be 33 meters in length – which is how long a Blue whale is. Now if that fact does not fascinate you then you need to consider the other interesting things about Blue Whales
- The longest Blue whale recorded is around 33.3 m. Now that might not be interesting but consider this – its blood vessels are so huge that not just a Dory but a small kid can swim through them.
- It weighs more than 200 tonnes. Just its tongue weighs more than a single elephant. Imagine the size of its heart – definitely bigger than your car.
- Given their size, their sound levels too, are extremely high. They are over 180 decibels – more than even the sound of jets.
- They primarily feed on small creatures called Krills and eat more than 3500 kilograms of this tiny marine creature in a day. This fact was a little unusual for me. Despite their large size, they eat such small creatures as against the smaller Sperm Whales who eat bigger creatures like Octopus.
- Contrary to their size, they are quite fast. They can swim up to 30 km/h. Also, they generally swim in groups
- Similar to their land cousins – the elephants, they have an incredibly long life span. They can live for anywhere between 80 – 90 years.
- Unlike the other marine creatures, the Blue whales do not breathe through gills. Being mammals, they too, use their lungs. They need to rise to the surface to take a breath which they can hold underwater for almost 30 minutes.
- When they rise to the surface, they breathe out through a spout. The air spray that they release is sometimes as high as 30 feet.
If your eyebrows have not disappeared into your hair, then I am ready to hug a whale. ;-). I can keep listing more of these incredible facts but for the purpose of our virtual Mirissa Whale Watching tour, these should be good.
Whale Watching in Sri Lanka
Whales are found in all the oceans except the Arctic Ocean. However, their density is higher around Sri Lanka. This is largely owing to the warm tropical climate and the profusion of Krills and planktons that are favored by the beasts. With the large coastline of Sri Lanka, Mirissa is not the only place for Whale Watching. The best part of this experience in Sri Lanka is that you can do it all year-round. If you are visiting Sri Lanka between May to October then head to Trincomalee along the North East coast. For the rest of the year, Mirissa is your destination. In fact, Mirissa is the most renowned for the Whale watching tours for it is close to the popular tourist places like Bentota and Galle. My trip to Mirissa in April was just the perfect Whale Watching Season.
Booking a Mirissa Whale Watching Tour
From the moment I told people that I am going to Mirissa, the one advice that I received was “Don’t miss Whale Watching here”. From the time I landed in Colombo till I left, I saw tons of boards advertising the various Mirissa Whale Watching Tours. The best deals, of course, were in Mirissa itself. Almost every hotel, resort, home-stay and even the local tour operators on the beach had this as their offering. We scouted around to realize that the paper rate for the tour was 6000 Sri Lankan Rupees but almost everyone was offering a little discount.
It did seem a little steep but since it was a highly recommended tour and possibly a once in a lifetime one, we decided to go ahead with it. We scored a deal through a hotel nearby – they had a special offer for their guests. Though we weren’t staying there, they gave us the same deal at 4800 per person with the assurance that the Whale Watching Tour was very professional and safe. I honestly did not know how else to evaluate the tours except a safety and an ecological angle. The first one was based on trust and reviews which were decent while the 2nd – well, the manager said that they all had to follow protocols set by the Sea Mammals Observation, Regulation and Control Regulations. The Sri Lankan Coast Guards ensured it. With that and fingers crossed, I set my alarm for 6 am.
Arriving at the Docks
A quick cup of tea and tons of excitement we met our auto ride to the harbor at Dondra Point. Just a 5-minute ride, past the morning fish market, we reached the point where not one, not two but many Whale Watching ferries awaited their guests. Colorful, double-decker speed boats stood anchored in a row and if it were not for our auto driver, we might have boarded the wrong one. (My big mistake was not knowing which tour was booked through that hotel).
Thankfully, it was not the smelly, smokey one but a nice and comfortable looking one. The upper deck was full so with our life jackets on, we settled into the lower deck. The crew assured us that it would not be an issue for when the actual whale spotting started, we were free to walk around the boat.
Preparation for the Whale Watching Tour
The crew handed out some tea and biscuits before we set sail. For those who were prone to sickness, a dose of Avomine was provided. Everyone was instructed to wear their life jackets and a short spiel on what to expect on the tour was shared. The tour guide told us that besides the Blue Whales, we might get lucky and spot some humpback ones. He also suggested keeping an eye out for the friendly dolphins, turtles and flying fish.
Whale watching was to be done from a distance and as a tour operator, the guide assured us that they would keep to specific speed limits in the ocean. This was to ensure that they did not disturb the whale. They would also, try approaching the whales horizontally. With a broad smile, he finally announced that we were now ready to go and see the giants of the sea.
Spotting the Dolphins in Mirissa
We took the Guide’s advice to heart and kept a watch out for any flying fish. All we saw was the gleaming blue of the Indian Ocean. Most people were dozing off when suddenly the tour spotter pointed out to leaping greys. “Dolphins”. Though the ones he spotted were far off, we suddenly realized that there were a few swimming alongside our boats. I wish our boat had stopped for them but we had to keep going ahead before the whales went off for their siesta. My favorite creature – the Dolphin followed us for a bit and as I saw the last of them, I told myself – “There will be that one dive that I will do with these creatures”.
The Actual Whale Watching Safari
I forgot to mention that our boat wasn’t the only one that set off from that harbor. Almost all the tour boats took off at the same time and it was almost as if we were a shoal of boats. Past the various flags, deep in the ocean, the boats spread out in various directions in search of the whales. They were all within calling distance of each other – much like the land safaris. I recalled my time in Kanha National park – where each jeep would set off on their own paths and later would radio each other in case they found the rare tigers.
In case of the Whale tours, the particular spot was suggested by the Sri Lankan Coast Guards. They normally monitor marine animals. The spotters on each boat actively lookout for “The Sign” in that area. Within minutes of us halting, I saw the unmistakable sign of the whale – the 30 feet high spray of water. Excited pointing of fingers with exclamations like “There There there…” prompted our captain to start the engine and race to an observable point. Sadly that cousin of “Moby Dick” decided to go into its 30 minutes of hibernation before we reached the spot.
The flurry of motor activity on the water stopped almost immediately until the next “There There there …” happened. People on the deck almost immediately crowded over to the other side and it was a miracle that the boat did not tip over;-). With the same call, every boat in the vicinity converged in the direction of the spouting blowhole but only one or two lucky boats got to see the rising whale. The good thing was that after the third or fourth spotting, the ones who were lucky returned back home leaving space for people like us.
It was almost over 2 hours and we seemed to have lucked out. Having feasted on the fresh fruits served on the deck, my Dottie got hypnotized by the rhythmic waves of the ocean. With the warm sun on her, she dozed off while I wandered into my dream world. I imagined being face to face with a grinning whale who was saying “Wait, I will put on a show for you – one that you will never forget.” It was almost prophetic for right in front of me, spouted a whale. I got my chance to say – “There, there there.” And for once, the boat did not have to rush anywhere.
The instant the water spray stopped, a huge depression in the ocean stunned me. Out rose the whale. The enormous size of it made me gasp. So stunned I was that I could not get his eye. It was almost as if it came out of my dream to do that show and disappear. I tried waking up my Dottie. By the time she had rubbed her eyes, the whale had said “Good Bye”.
Return to solid ground
With such a good sighting, it was our turn to turn back home. There was quite a celebratory air around. The crew distributed yummy cupcakes and fresh fruits and while I feasted on that, I enjoyed my return to the green vistas. Ï looked around to see if there were any of those dancing dolphins joining my glee but well, they seemed to have taken my promise to swim with them seriously. Staring back at the ocean, I thanked my friendly whale for letting me sight him – it was a rare and beautiful experience. After all, it is not every day you meet with these gentle giants of the World.
How to get to Mirissa?
- Mirissa is just 150 km from Colombo airport. It is well connected to the capital city by road and rail.
- The easiest thing to do is to hire an Uber or a cab from the airport to get you to Mirissa in around 3 hours. However, it might be a little expensive to do that. You will likely have to shell out anything between 13000 to 15000 LKR. You can also, prebook your ride through this website from the airport directly to Mirissa.
- It is better to get to Colombo bus station or railway station and use public transport to get to Mirissa. There are express trains to Mirissa and cost around 200 LKR for a ticket in 2nd class. You can check the railway schedule here.
- There are luxury and regular buses to Mirissa from Colombo. It might take a little longer to get there but will be cheaper. Your bus tickets would range between 900 to 1500 LKR.
Tips for booking a Mirissa Whale Watching tour?
- Like I mentioned, the paper price for Whale Watching in Mirissa is fixed. There are plenty of websites that allow you to book one in advance with some bit of discount. Here is a link to help you with booking a Mirissa Whale Watching Tour online.
- Booking a Mirrisa Whale tour at the destination might also, be a good idea as you are likely to find deals at your resort or hotels or home-stay.
- Be aware of the various middlemen who stand on the beach and sell these tours. While they may be genuine, it is best to know which tour they are booking you into.
- We made a mistake of not finding out which tour we were into. Luckily, it was good and responsible in its approach to Whale watching. From my own error, I advise you to make a note of whether the tour you are booking is ecologically responsible.
- You can book these tours anywhere in Sri Lanka but will need to reach Mirissa on your own. Once in Mirissa, the tour operators give you a complimentary pick-up from your place of stay to the harbor. However, there is no drop included. To get back, you can either walk to the main road or hire one of the many Tuk-Tuks from the harbor. They charge a standard rate of LKR 200 for a drop – anywhere within Mirissa.
- Most tour operators arrange for a small breakfast onboard. They also, give you medicines, in case you get seasick.
- The Whale Watching tours guarantee a sighting or offer you a complete refund or a free tour the next day.
- As mentioned earlier, the Mirissa Whale Watching Season is from November to April.
The above links will not be an additional cost to you but if you book through them, I get a commission that keeps my website going.
Where to stay in Mirissa?
- Mirissa has tons of options to choose from. From five-star beach resorts to home-stays, you can pretty much book your room on most online Websites.
- We booked our Mirissa Hotel through Booking.com. You can use this link to book yours too. It will help me earn a little commission without any additional cost to you.
- There are other stays in Mirissa too, that you can find through this weblink
- It is pretty warm in Mirissa throughout the year. Make sure you wear comfortable cotton clothes for this journey. A light jacket in the morning would keep you comfortable. Also, a good idea to get your sunscreen, hat and sunglasses.
- Remember to carry your zoom lens and binoculars to get a good Whale sighting.
- Be on an alert with your camera for the entire action happens in less than 30 seconds. Try to capture the whale tail which my pet whale did not think of showing off to me. 🙁
- Please listen to your crew members and avoid unnecessary risks when on the boat.
- A typical Whale Watching tour takes anything between 3 – 5 hours. Be patient and prepared for the same.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.