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The whales of Mirissa, Sri Lanka

It took a while to come back on the blog. Too long.

So, I was picking through all the photographs that I saved from my recent trip to Sri Lanka and decided to tell you a little bit more about the whale watching business in Mirissa. I lived in the Maldives long enough to love every possible form of marine life and was lucky to swim with whale sharks now and then. But a whale is something else. After hearing about the resident whale population in Sri Lanka along the shores of Mirissa, I decided to give it a go during my trip.

Mirissa is a lively beach town in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka with plenty of low-priced accommodations, bars, and little shops. What I didn’t know is that there were tons of ‘operators’ selling ‘whale watching tours’ from the moment you arrive until you leave. I even made lots of researches on-line worrying that I wouldn’t be able to find the right place or pay the right price. What a waste of time.

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The truth is that there is a price for locals and a price for tourists and if you let a ‘local friend’ buy a ticket for you in return of a little tip (and if you don’t tell anybody), you will get a good price.

Later when I was on the boat and asked few people, everybody around me seemed to have used the same system. So much with the *don’t tell anybody. I paid 2500rupees instead of 8000rupees and got my boat trip arranged.

mirissa harbor

6 am the meeting point at the harbor of Mirissa. That alone is quite a sight. Fishermen all around bringing back the catch of the morning, the sound of their voices calling the best bargain and a pungent smell of fresh fish mixed with the mist of the early hours. The boat crew gave me a life jacket and cruised out of the harbor towards Cape Weligama. A cup of tea, some water, and a little sandwich were served on the way out and just before I could take a little nap somebody screamed: Whales!

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Lots of them, all around the boat.

Unfortunately many other boats were on the same mission and my idyllic moment with the whales was not as I thought it would be. Being a small boat, the crew did not let the passengers get up and take pictures at the same time on both sides, fearing capsizes. Too many boats all over and only a few minutes to spot the whales. Some boat got so close to the whales, apparently not allowed, that it was even harder to see them.

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Somebody told me that tourists were not allowed to jump in the water and swim with the whales. However, two friends of mine found a compliant fisherman a few weeks later and got into the water with the whales. I don’t think I need to describe their experience.

Whale watching is certainly a great experience, but it can easily become a tourist trap, and it certainly need better supervision by local authorities.

 

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