Whale Watching in Mirissa
Whale watching was high on my list for my trip to Sri Lanka. Mirissa, on the Southern coast, is the launching point for the boats. There were plenty of different operators peddling whale watching trips, some were even ridiculously cheap! However, like in most developing countries, wildlife tourism isn’t always done in an ethical manner. I consulted a few travel blogs and Trip Advisor, and read great reviews about Raja and the Whales. While a bit more pricey than the other options (~$40 USD/person), they had impeccable reviews on following safety protocols and always observing the wildlife at the minimum distance of 50 meters.
Along with Henriko and Emilie, we were joined by Emma and Matias, Dutch and Belgian, respectively. Emilie had met them at Hostel Ostello after Henriko and I had left. A tuk tuk picked us up at our hostel at 6am and drove us to the pier. After paying for our tickets and taking Dramamine pills to prevent seasickness, we boarded the boat. The top of the boat only had floor cushions for seats, but it offered a much better vantage point than the bottom level. We grabbed some seats together and donned the life jackets that we were required to wear.
As it was still early in the morning. a few of us drifted in and out of sleep. It took us about an hour and a half to get far enough away from the coast until we saw some wildlife. First we came across a pod of dolphins, attracted by the local fishing boats we had passed. They playfully jumped in and out of the water, trying to snatch the fish that had been attracted by the fishermen’s bait.
We then soon saw our first whale, although it was pretty far away. It was sighted due to its forceful exhalation of air out of its blowhole. The other passengers collectively let out an “ahh!”, as we were transfixed for a few seconds until the whale once again retreated below the surface.
Raja and the Whales operate differently than the other tours, as they choose to go to areas where whales have known to frequent in the past. In contrast, the other tours race each other to where a whale was just spotted, often scaring them away in the process. This results in no whale sightings and frequent tourist sighting instead!
Raja and the Whales also fed us well during the trip. We were provided a snack of at least seven different types of fruit, as well as an egg omelette and bread and butter.
During the tour we ended up seeing 6-7 whales. It was sometimes hard to determine if we were seeing a different whale or if it had just swam to a different location underwater. Unfortunately we didn’t see any whales breaching the water, although we were able to see one flash it’s tail before submerging again. I didn’t get many good pictures of the whales due to our distance and the limited exposure of their bodies above the water. It still was an incredible experience to be near the largest creatures known to roam the Earth!
Soon it was time to begin our return journey back to the coast. It took us about two hours to make it back since we had driven out so far. This was the point when the Dramamine really kicked in and made everybody sleepy. The floor cushions became pillows and many people (myself included) fully reclined out on the deck for the ride back.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed my experience with Raja and the Whales. Just like any tour involving wildlife, they can never guarantee an animal sighting. But, that is the beauty of seeing creatures in their natural habitats, right? I encourage everyone to do proper research when interested in an activity that involves animals and I discourage anyone from ever supporting a company that knowingly is exploiting animals for financial gain.