Monday, 12 May 2014

12th April - Mirissa to Colombo, Sri Lanka

This morning we set off for our final whale watch, the final chance to find the Blue Whale.  Like the previous days it was a warm sticky start, but unlike previous days there was an air of the end of term, due to the trip coming to an end, and our Sri Lankan guides all looking forward to the new year celebrations.  At the port thing were no different, guests arrived and waited expectantly, checking the latest sightings board, and hoping for success today.  The one thing that was different, the light, there was more cloud and therefore the fishing boats around the harbour were not as bright as on previous visits.

We set off on time and headed out into an ocean swell that was also a lot stronger than the last trip.  The Whiskered Terns flew alongside as set off, and these were replaced by the White-winged Blacks and Greater crested Terns.  The sun finally put in an appearance, and changed the look of the shore as we headed on.

Once again we took position on the top of the boat, practised now in the art of balancing, but always ready with the hand to grab a rail as the boat lurched into the waves.  It was very quiet, we could see other boats going off in all angles in the search, but there was nothing.  After about an hour od sailing and seeing not even a dolphin, the look outs got a little more excited.  Away in the distance there were some fishing boats and we were heading for them.  One of the look outs asked me to guess what whale there was.  I reeled off the ones I hoped for, and the conversation went something like this 

"Blue Whale?
Sperm Whale?
Then running out of suggestions I just said "Killer?" He smiled and said "yes", and it was at that point I knew we were not going to see Blue Whale on this trip.

Killer Whales or to give them their right name Orca, occur only a handful of times in the season, they are very rare in these waters, a bit like the Sperm Whales on the first day.  But when there are Orca the Blues disappear.  I was told stories by the lookouts of them seeing Orca attack the Blues, so you can understand why.

As we approached you could see the tall dorsal fin break the water., and as we got closer it was possible to see that there appeared to be three present, two adults and what looked to be a young calf.  The calf stayed close to what must have been it's mother, while the other, with a much taller dorsal fin could have been a young male.

Boats had arrived from nowhere, and there were also a group of small fishermen with lines dashing around the whales probably in the hope there were tuna too.  We followed the Orca from a distance but some of the boats went close as you can see from these pictures

The mother and calf seemed unconcerned through by the boats, but the other whale dived and swam off.  The family pair would move through the water at a shallow depth, breaking through the waves to breathe

The dorsal fin has distinctive marks, and it was this that makes me believe there were definitely three individuals.  At one point the adult swam across in front of the boat, and you could see the white markings on the side of the whale under the water.

Then it broke the water close to the boat.

By now their patience with the smaller fishing boats who were getting very close wore thin, and they started to take longer dives to get away from them.  As a result we decided to leave them, and went in pursuit of a large pod of Spinner Dolphins.

They swim very close together in groups that make up a super pod of, in this case at least 400 plus dolphins.  This behaviour attracts the attention of the sea birds, and at last I was able to get good views of a Bridled Tern as it joined the Greater Cresteds to look for any opportunity of food being served up by the dolphins.

The dolphins were everywhere, and each little group would have a different behaviour, some just breaking the water all together, but others leaping and spinning in the air.

Wonderfully entertaining to watch they were on every side of the boat.

It is said that the reason we have such an infinity with dolphins is because their mouths always look like they are smiling, and that they are always happy.  As you watched this pod iot definitely looked like they were enjoying themselves and were having a great time.

Finally we left the dolphins, and it was back to shore, and then back to the hotel.  We would be leaving at lunch-time for the journey to Colombo where we were staying for one night before out flight back to the UK the next day.

On the way we stopped at a Turtle Hatchery.  This is supposed to be a conservation effort, but it is hard to understand why it is necessary to keep young hatchlings in concrete pools, it really was a sad experience.  Yes some of the turtles were injured, but others looked fit, and could hear the sea and were rubbing their skin on the concrete edges in an effort to get out.

Another stop was Galle and the Dutch Fort.  It was hot and we all really wanted to just move on.  We walked the walls for awhile, and looked out across the bay.  It was very colonial, and with a lot of European influence as is to be expected.  We had a drink in one of the hotels that was straight out of the British Empire, and it had some interesting photographs from the turn of the twentieth century.

It was here we said goodbye to Sampath, and then we set off to our hotel to wait for the trip to end.

A wonderful ten days in a lovely country.  My expectation was of a country like India, but it wasn't, there is definitely a difference and we enjoyed it.  The wild life was spectacular, and it was a shame the images were lost, but we both have the memories, and they cannot be taken away.  Would we come back again?  yes we would, and hopefully to see that Blue Whale.  In total we saw 112 birds with over 40 new lifers for me.  There were 6 species of whale, and some incredible animals including the beautiful Leopard, and magnificent Elephants.

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