Sri Lanka has many beach towns along its southern coast, and the beaten track is to go from Colombo up to the mountains and then finish up the vacation by relaxing on the beach (basically the exact route that I’ve been following). One of the larger beach towns that is popular among tourists is Mirissa.
I’m not much of a beach person and I only had one day in Mirissa after adding a day in Tissa, so I just opted to do one of the most popular and unique activities there: whale watching.
A typical whale watching boat:
Everywhere you walk in Mirissa, you see signs advertising whale watching packages. Every hotel will also help you book whale watching, with the same blue tickets that state a “full price” of 6000LKR ($40) but which they generously offer for 2000LKR to 3000LKR ($13.33 – $20).
As I did in Tissa, I found the top rated place for whale watching on TripAdvisor, the Whale Watching Club. Their package was a little more pricey (surprise, surprise) at 4,000LKR ($26.66), but the owner/captain said that he had 15 years of experience and carried fewer people on his boat. So why not? It’s hard to quantify experiences, and it’s worth paying a little more to ensure you get a good one…right?
Whale watching didn’t require as early of a wake up time as the safari, but I still had to be ready to be picked up at 6am. I arrived at the harbor and got on the boat, and we were off at around 6:30, before any of the other boats.
Back at the office, the Whale Watching Club had provided sea sickness tablets to anyone who needed them. Even though I’d never experienced any sea sickness before, I got paranoid listening to stories of the rocky waters. So while on the boat, I took one for good measure. Turns out that you’re supposed to take them a while BEFORE setting sail, so it might not have even worked at all. But that placebo effect is strong.
Shortly after setting sail, we got our breakfasts of an egg sandwich, egg roll, and banana. I was super impressed at the crew, who came to us one by one without tripping or spilling any food.
About 45 minutes to an hour out at sea, the crew suddenly pointed to something in the distance and beckoned everyone to look. I think all of us were a little bewildered for the first 2 minutes, until someone realized that we were looking at the horizon, where the occasional tiny splurt of water appeared. Dang, very good eye!
We booked it in that direction, and eventually got close enough to see our first whale! A blue whale, up close and personal.
The dorsal fin, how you tell that it’s a blue whale:
And the coveted tail shot:
The blue whales apparently only surface for a short period of time and then dive back down for 15 minutes before resurfacing. Somehow the captain could tell where it would resurface (that’s where the experience comes in), so we followed this whale (if it was just one whale) to see it another two times.
However, by that time all the other boats had caught up, and there were about 6 other ships chasing the same whale with us. Some of them were a little over-eager, just about running over the whale in their haste to get close to it.
We didn’t come across any other whales, though I had a few false alarms. The waves in the distance are crested and dark, so every few minutes I would think that I saw a fin.
Around 10:30 we all started heading back, but we went on a slight detour down the coast in the hope of seeing some dolphins. Eventually we did come across a school of them:
And then it was time to go back to shore. On the return trip, everyone crashed. I found it exceedingly difficult to keep my eyes open, and I was confused – why was I so much more tired on the boat than on the safari, when I woke up much earlier? Was it the rocking of the boat? Was I just that much more tired over the past few days? Or, as I later discovered, was it because drowsiness is one of the side effects of motion sickness pills? Ah, that would do it.
So that was whale watching! I got a taste of all the big animals in Sri Lanka. It was a nice experience, but to be honest, I’m not sure if I’d do it again… unless I can swim with them next time!