Monday, January 2, 2012

Whale Watching

Bleary eyed we arose at 5:00 this morning - yes, I realize it is our vacation but...we decided to go whale watching today, and what a gorgeous day for doing it. We met our guide and another couple and jumped into a van, heading south. The whales travel just past the continental shelf, sadly in the area of the shipping lanes - we left from the point in Sri Lanka that is closest to this spot
Turns out the couple we were with are actually scientist who were doing a feasibility study to look at the impact of shipping lanes as well as hundreds of whale watchers on the migration patterns of the whales. Our guide has been working on studying the whales for the last few years and was working with the British couple to see what could be done in the future since his own grant was running out. We picked up two more men who wanted to record whales sounds to study – we learned a lot about whales just by listening to them.

Trio of dolphins
Spinner Dolphin

What a trip! The men in charge of the boat were nothing short of remarkable with their ability to spot dolphins - they have such a low profile that it seemed impossible to see them before we got right on top of them. There was some help with a fisherman who came by, signing jumping animals and pointing but still...they were all but invisible to me until we were right on top of them. The pod had a number of calves in with the others - probably all feeding - and moving away from the boats.
Blue whale surfacing

Blue whale fluke

 After many more hours (though really, it was probably only 30 minutes or so) one of the guys spotted our first whale - although all you could see was the blow as it came up. We quickly powered our way through the waves so that we could get close enough to really see the whale - it was a Blue whale - absolutely huge! Ginormous! It seemed to take minutes to finish surfacing - the front was under water before it we even through. Sadly, it seemed to only stay up for 4 or 5 breaths and then it dove and disappeared. We found 2 or 3 other whales and again, the same thing happened.
The large boat chasing whales

 It is true that there are lots of boats out, whale watching. It has become an important source of income for the people here, meaning there are a lot of boats chasing whales down. On the plus side, they are trying to regulate it, looking at what can be done, how to spread out the boats, to protect the whales (hence that study they're hoping to do). By the late morning, there were 5 small boats and one huge one out plying the water back and forth, searching for signs of whales. I actually think the whales were staying up for less time and diving sooner just to escape us - hope the study goes through and some changes occur. On one of the dives, I got a great picture of the whale's fluke - not the classic back shot but nevertheless, a true shot of the fluke - Jeff thought it was just a fluke that I got it - and I've made him promise to stop with the fluke jokes.

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