Saturday, January 5, 2013
Into the blue- Random whale watching trip to Mirissa
The adventure on Saturday the 5th of January 2013 was a very random one. I had planned to do a bird watching hike to Kitulgala along with Erich and few other friends. I had heard so much about the diversity of avifauna in that region that I was very keen to do a small reconnaissance mission before planning a longer trip. I was desperate to photograph the three toed kingfisher, and I was told that they are seen in that area.
While surfing the internet on Thursday evening I saw several status updates and photos of sperm whales sighted in Mirissa. Seeing and photographing these giant whales has been a lifelong ambition of mine. I quickly forgot the Kitulgala venture, and along with Erich, made arrangements for a quick visit to Mirissa on Saturday. I had missed the sperm whales in 2011 and was determined not to miss this opportunity.
Erich and Niroshan all set for the ride
Niroshan's first time deep sea
Comfortable seating aboard the boat
The skipper Nandi looking over the horizon
Nandi on the lookout
I arranged a boat with Whale Watching Mirissa (http://www.whalewatchingmirissa.com) which is handled by Ganidu Rochana (Contact- email- firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone- +94713121061), who was extremely helpful and arranged everything for us. This outfit was new to the scene, but I was ready to give it a try.
The previous day I came home early to catch up on some good old sleep, as I had deprived myself of it the last two days due to my MBA assignments and I was feeling the effect. I was literally a zombie at office. I knocked off at 3.00 PM and woke up only at 12.30 AM at night. I check my phone to find a few missed called from Erich and an SMS from him saying that another friend of his would join us as well.
During this week my friend Niroshan was not well, and was awaiting surgery and thus we missed having him on our trips for some while. He has missed all the whale watching trips in the last few years and I was sad that he couldn’t join us this time around as well. With this in my mind I prepared for Erich to pick me up at 3.30 AM. The car arrived and I stepped out of the house. I noticed his friend was seated at the back, and was fast asleep. Assuming that he must be tired, I didn’t bother to ask Erich to introduce him right away and we continued on our drive. On the way I was chatting with Erich about Niroshan and how he always missed the good trips etc., when I asked him to stop by a bank so that I can withdraw some money. Suddenly the friend at the back got up and started laughing. Before turning around I thought to myself that this new friend of Erich’s was very odd that he’s behaving weirdly around people who he hasn’t met. When I turned round I found Niroshan laughing his guts out, rolling on the seat. I was surprised and shocked that I didn’t notice the person behind me. I was very happy that he could make it for this adventure, as I know how long he waited to come whale watching with me. Happy that the trio was together for this trip we headed towards Mirissa via the southern express way. The new highway enabled us to reach Mirissa by 5.30 AM where it would have taken us 4 hours previously.
It was still very dark and we were asked to drive into the Mirissa Fisheries Harbor. We were walking around looking for our boat, and were asked to move to the pier which was below our level, and to do so we had to traverse on a series of big rock boulders. The decent was precarious because it was pitch dark and the rocks were loose and were moving around with each step. I slowly balanced myself and reached the bottom pier, but ended up placing my foot on a bag full of slimy fish parts which was slippery and I slipped and fell hard on the ground. I was in severe pain as my ankle twisted very badly, and I feared a fracture. I was also angry that I fell on the filthy refuse of the harbor. The pain in my ankle was severe but it was clear that it was a very bad sprain, and not a fracture. I washed myself and limped my way to the boat. I was upset because you need good ankle support to balance oneself while at sea, and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to photograph the whales due to the injury. Despite this initial mishap I tried to keep a brave face, and look at the brighter side. I was in Mirissa and about to witness some of the largest animals to every live on earth.
The boat was very nice, and much better than the ones I had previously used in the last few years. There was spacious seating at the top and bottom deck, and the viewing angles were good. The boat charges were very reasonable at much cheaper than the rates charged by other operators. We were joined by a Danish student Karina and an Italian lady which made a total of 5 of us in the boat which was such a joy compared to being packed together in an overcrowded vessel like in previous trips. The captain of the boat was Nandi a veteran fisherman who has been sailing in these waters for over 30 years. The rest of the boat crew were also very senior veterans who have years of experience in the sea. They were all new to the whale watching scene, but made a tremendous effort in making our stay comfortable, and their warmth and hospitality made us feel at home.
The ride took us around 10-15 KM offshore towards the shipping lane where we came across many other whale watching boats all flocked together. Suddenly out of nowhere were the whales began to surface. With loud spouts of vapor these leviathans rose from the depths. We observed over 5 whales at that time, and when we turned around found around 5 more behind us. There were roughly over 10 blue whales in that area. Photographing them was a challenge, and I missed two great opportunities of them breaching halfway into the surface. After a few missed opportunities, I finally got into the rhythm of the swaying boat and managed to capture some good photographs. The light was not optimum as the entire sky was overcast. This resulted in me needing to up my ISO on my camera to around 640. I missed a few good tail fluke shots due to the boat swaying, and asked the boat crew to wait a little while long than the other boats to try and get a close up of this lovely action.
Finally after around 2 hours we observed a big blue surface right next to the boat, and take a deep dive with tail flukes raised high in the air. I finally managed to capture this lovely shot of the massive tail raised high in the air, with water cascading down like a waterfall. Unfortunately we didn’t see the sperm whales we came after, but managed to observe some lovely blue whales nevertheless. Without regrets we headed back to Colombo. Now back at home, I am still limping very badly and having intense pain in my ankle. I will need to rest it for a few weeks before heading on another adventure.