Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Blue Whale Newspaper Article

My yarn in The Weekend Australian Travel section this weekend about the blue whales we saw off the southern Sri Lanka coast ( see here  for earlier post).

Whale of a tail out of the blue

Whale watching
A whale watching boat full of tourists in Mirissa, Sri Lanka. Picture: Alamy Source: Supplied
THE proportions are mind-boggling - a tongue the size of an elephant; a heart the size of a small sedan; a song louder than a jetliner. The blue whale, the largest animal on the planet, is quite something.
The southern coast of Sri Lanka has emerged as the place to view these giants. Whaling has reduced the global population from an estimated 350,000 to about 12,000. In Sri Lanka, blue whales frequent deep waters relatively close to shore and a thriving industry has blossomed as whale watchers flock to picturesque fishing villages.
We gather before dawn at the village of Mirissa, not far from the World Heritage-listed fort city of Galle.
At the harbour, we negotiate our way through a throng of fishermen to board our vessel, Jayasawura II.
We head out to sea as the sun rises over coconut-fringed white-sand beaches. There is an element of luck involved in whale watching. Trips are often cancelled due to bad weather in the October-April season or boats are forced to turn back early by strong winds. Sometimes, of course, the whales simply fail to show.
As we tackle boxed breakfasts provided as part of the ticket (about $65), young crew members move to the bow, on the look-out for the telltale spray from the blue whale's blowhole. We have been motoring for an hour when the shout goes up. A spout of water as high as a three-storey building looms above us. The blue whale is not immediately in view; a tense few minutes pass before the murky grey water is broken by the elegant arch of its back. Through binoculars, the size of the creature is apparent. I have seen many humpbacks and other species, but the creature before us, about 20m (blue whales grow to about 30m), is massive, about 15 times the size of an adult elephant. In a few long seconds, the blue whale (and it is indeed blue) ploughs through the water, then submerges. As a last hurrah, its huge tail rises above the sea, slapping the water lazily as it disappears. A metre-long suckerfish attached to the tail looks like a minnow.
We are just 15km offshore, but over depths of 1500m, when we spot the whale. The closeness of the continental shelf to land is the key to the convenient presence of the creatures here, including the sperm whale of Moby Dick fame, and numerous spinner dolphins. There is no land between us and Antarctica, 11,000km to the south.
An upwelling of nutrients arises from the meeting of cold shelf waters and warm tropical currents off the coast. Conditions are ideal for krill and tiny shrimp, the main food source of the blue whale, which consumes 3500kg a day. During our morning at sea we see at least six blue whales, including a mother and calf. We also see a steady line of cargo ships on the horizon. The world's busiest shipping lane skirts the whales' feeding grounds, and the carcasses of cetaceans killed by propellers wash up regularly on beaches. In Australia, vessels are prohibited from approaching within 100m of a whale; there are no such restrictions here and boats jostle to get as close as they can. Sri Lanka's whale-watching industry is expanding by 20 per cent a year and experts believe it's time to take stock of the implications.
Mirissa Water Sports operates daily whale-watching excursions in season (October to April). More:
Colombo-based Birding Sri Lanka organises whale-watching trips in conjunction with visits to Yala National Park, two hours by road north of Mirissa, and other destinations where elephants and native wildlife can be seen. More:

1 comment:

  1. As Sri Lanka is a very beautiful place. One of my favorite is Yala National park. It is great to watch different animals, migratory birds such as flamingos etc. If you want the more about Whales watching in Sri Lanka season then must follow on that.