Whale watching Mirissa, Sri Lanka

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Whale watching Mirissa. What to expect.

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How we might imagine our encounter with whales. But only very few are fortunate enough to get this close. One of them is Beau Pilgrim, who took this picture. Worth to follow…

Around 70% of our planets surface is water. As surfers, we of course have a special relationship with the ocean. Actually, we’re more interested in the coastlines than in the ocean as such. How ever, spending so much time in it, I was lucky to meet some of its inhabitants over the years.

I surfed with Dolphins in Australia, snorkelled with whale-sharks in Africa, saw countless Stingrays in America, came way too close with sharks in Asia, and had jellyfish even closer, under my skin close, in Europe, and all the other continents as well. I swam/surfed with sea turtles countless times, saw incredible amounts of fish and fishes, deadly sea snakes, starfish, seahorse or bioluminescent plankton. One of the only things still missing, was to see a whale.

They travel around the globe more than I do. But somehow we always had a different schedule, and I always arrived in a place, short after the last ones left.

When I was in Andalucía, Spain, a few years ago, a boat was about to leave for whale watching. I decided to go. But when I was at the harbour, seeing the boatload full of people, it reminded me too much of sardines in a can, to be part of it.

Last year in Mirissa, I had the chance to go again, but the picture of all those people in their shiny orange life jackets, somehow put me off. Whale watching Mirissa was not on my to-do-list.

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It was not that I didn’t want to see whales. I just wanted to have a different kind of experience, a different memory about that encounter. I wanted to sit on top of a cliff, while they swim past, or on a sailing boat, going from one point to another, while the whales do the same thing.

 

I though the whale watching Mirissa thing, is like the burger picture on the menu: Perfect picture, probable a slightly different experience, once in front of you.

 

As I’ve never done it before, and was traveling with people who really wanted to do it, I though to give it a chance. I might really like it, if I don’t start the the trip with negative anticipation.

When I checked the forecast for the coming day, I saw that it would be the biggest waves of the week. Of course I wanted to surf that morning, and didn’t see why it would be a problem to postpone whale watching Mirissa for one more day. Especially as my non-surfing travel companions were not too sure about their stomach and seasickness. But traveling with people who care less about waves than I do, they felt like, they want to do it that day, simply because they wanted to do it that day… And as I told myself, to give me a chance to like it, I though to loose one morning of surfing, would be a fair deal in exchange to see those gentle giants.

 

We got to the harbour with first light, and even being in pre-season, there were already a fair number of boats packed with people, while many more boats stayed in the harbour that day. Five boats left at the same time from that place, all cruising next to each other, with a few hundred meters between them.

It felt like hunting! Scanning through the chosen habitat of those ocean nomads, the captain always on the phone with the others, to make sure not to miss one. I saw this with mixed feelings, while the feelings of many of the passengers got worse with every passing wave.

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It’s not only about luck if you see a whale or not, but also about being able to actually take a look

The price for whale watching Mirissa is 6’500 LKR/person (some say), around 45US$. But you can also find it for half the price or less. I know one place, where they charge only 2500 LKR, no bargain needed! This included a bottle of water and some snacks, as well as plastic bags for those who needed them. And the number of people, who made more use of the bags than of the food, was getting bigger really quick. It was not even a big swell, but big enough to keep the boat rocking with an uneven, unpleasant rhythm. For those who really couldn’t stand it anymore, there was still the chance of ordering a speedboat to take them back. Of course not free of charge, but for a hefty 100 US$!

 

Like the burger you’ll be served, traveling is not all Pinterest and Instagram!

 

That one beach you though looks so amazing, ends up being just a lot of sand under a grey sky, and choppy, cold water. And the Matterhorn is covered in thick fog, not visible while you’re there… not like on all those pictures you’ve seen.

Traveling can also be realizing, that all those imaginary allegorical unicorns extinct, and are replaced with a less splendid kind of reality. But more about this is coming soon.

 

The day before we went, they saw the first whale only 1.5km off shore, saw three in total, and were back after three hours. Whale watching Mirissa at its best! All the passengers were more than satisfies, as their so to speak “whale burger” was really what they saw in the brochure! We, on our day, kept on going. In the end, we were 15km off the coast, when one of the boats, it was seven by now, saw a fountain in the distance.

 

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Can you spot the whale in the distance? (It’s his back, not his tail fin or a fountain.) The captain certainly can, and you’re about to find out how fast the boat can go.

That moment, the scanning for whales changed into a racing for whales. It was only the small dimensions of our vessel that reminded me, we’re whale watching Mirissa, not whaling!

 

The fin came out, and the whale went under. With one breath, the whale usually stays under water for around ten to sixteen minutes. Time to wait, and to hope it surfaces close to us. Half the people on each boat where searching the ocean, hoping to see more than the time before, while the other half was concentrated to not throw up again.

Eventually the whale came up again. Seven boats kicked in full speed, and tried to bring us closer. But it disappeared again, before we were really in sight.

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The highlight of the morning whale watching Mirissa. Far away, and zoomed in a lot.

I’m not a marine-biologist, but I recon the whales hear those old, loud engines from far away. And if they feel like, they simply dive and are gone. Maybe this is the difference to another hunt, where the animals are chased until they are too tired to keep running away.

After the whale surfaces a third time, and vanished into the depths, the captain and his crew, as well as most passengers were too tired to keep waiting and hoping. After all, it was a long way back. Much longer than on the day before.

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And it was gone…

For the crew, it was another normal day at work. A way to pay their bills.

As for the tourists… For some it was a torture, much longer than they anticipated.

For others, it was something to tick off there list, “Been there…Done that…”

And for the ones like me, it was an enjoyable morning on the ocean, the place I like most to be. Well…actually 15km away from the exact place I like most to be. It was not how I wished to encounter whales. But to see a whale blow his hole, and his colossal fin before diving, was enough for me, to keep this huge, little travel-unicorn alive. Enough for now. Enough until I’m on a cliff or a sailing yacht, watching whales swim by…

 

 

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  1. Pingback: Surf Sri Lanka, the perfekt winter surf tip - www.thefreesurfer.com

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