One of the main reasons I put Mirissa on the list of places to visit during my trip to Sri Lanka this year was the whale watching cruise. According to the internet, whale watching season starts in November/December and ends in March. Our cruise was booked for the 24th of March.
But the internet has no say when it comes to mother nature.
It started the evening before, when we told our host at the home-stay that we would be going on a whale watching cruise the next morning. “Ohhh… Three days, no whales,” he said. I was crestfallen. Of course, I didn’t let him see it. “We will pray,” my mother said confidently, and we left to have dinner on the beach.
At Ocean Moon restaurant, when our waiter came up to take our order, we had a little conversation with him about our trip so far. Naturally, he asked us how we were liking Mirissa and when he learnt of our plans for the next morning, he decided to put a damper on it, “I’m sorry to disappoint you but there have been no whales for three days.”
He didn’t sound very sorry to me. But I knew how sorry I would feel if I didn’t see that whale. Oh the tantrums I threw with God that night.
The waiter even told me that March end was advertised as end of season but whale sightings usually stop a little earlier. I don’t know if he’s right but I certainly didn’t want to believe him.
The next morning, we left for the Mirissa harbour at 6:00 AM. We found our boat and climbed up to the upper deck. There are limited seats but cushions are laid out on the sides and front, so you can sit on the floor too. We sat on the floor by choice. It gave us a better view of the ocean and was quite comfortable too.
People on board, life jackets on, we headed out into the ocean. The water, a steely blue giving no sign of life underneath, was in a frivolous mood. It was a good 30 minutes before we slowed down, well into the ocean, far away from the shore.
No sooner were the engines off, the crew became alert. They began talking fervently in Sinhalese. The second I noticed this, my eyes widened with hopeful excitement. Was a whale out there? Was it finally going to show? Was I going to see it? Were my prayers going to be answered?
The answer to all those questions, it turned out, was a big fat yes.
Blue whales come up for air every 15 minutes. So after the first sighting, we were all on tenterhooks – all except this guy next to me (it’s not important but he had really cool tattoos on his face) who seemed too calm for my comprehension. He also almost always knew where to look.
We eagerly waited, eyes peeled and without a clue as to where the big guy would show up again. But show up he did. Four more times.
Whale watching in Mirissa is bound by a lot of ethical laws and standards. Since whales are sensitive creatures, the crew ensures the boat never gets too close to them. They take added efforts to not disturb them or the comfort of their habitat. Diving is an absolute no-no.
Sadly, there are a few rule-breakers every now and then, and these have led to some pretty ugly incidents, including a murder – of a man, not a whale – couple of years back.
On the whale watching cruise, one almost always ends up spotting dolphins. The friendly creatures that they are, they sometimes swim right alongside the boat. I saw a pod of dolphins really, really far away but that was about it. Since the whale showed up after a three-day hiatus, the dolphins didn’t get too much priority. I’m not disappointed, I’ll come back for you dolphins.
You have to watch closely, but in the video below you can see the blue whale just as it’s going back into the water.
There are many whale watching cruise companies in Mirissa. I wanted to book with a company called Raja and the Whales. They were easily the most popular choice according to my internet search results. But the reason I was particularly intrigued by them was because of Raja’s story. You can read about it here.
I personally had a really good experience with Danushka. The first time we saw the whale, I was on the side of the boat that was away from the whale. Two members of the crew frantically waved their hands at me to come over and made sure I saw it. It’s kind of because of them that I have a photo at all.
The crew was so friendly and professional. I even had a chat with one of them (again, not important but he had two thumbs on one hand) on our way back to the harbour. If I remember right, he’s been working there since the inception of the company in 2005/6.
My only qualm with Danushka’s boat was the loo. I don’t want this to take away my whale’s thunder so all I’m going to say is that the flush wasn’t working and that it is advisable to pee before you embark.
The cruise cost us LKR 5,000 each, for a seat on the upper deck. This included a tea/coffee, a breakfast sandwich, a juice box and a bottle of water. Oh, and they also hand out sea-sickness tablets before the cruise begins. Nobody likes a party-puker.
The waiter at Ocean Moon Restaurant told me that we had overpaid. I was a little upset by this but after sighting the whale, it didn’t matter to me anymore. He said that there are whale watching cruises that charge only LKR 2,500. He also said that a cruise with Raja and the Whales costs LKR 6,000 but in case of no whale sighting, you get half your money back. I have no way to validate anything he said though.
So, if you’ve been on a whale watching cruise in Mirissa, please let me and my readers know how much you paid. If you’ve been on a whale watching cruise with Raja and the Whales, I’d love to hear about your experience. And if you’ve been whale watching anywhere else in the world, I’d be elated to read about that too!
P.S. After the cruise, we totally wen’t around telling everyone we met, including the waiter at Ocean Moon, that we saw the whale. I’ll admit I was gloating a little bit but I think I was allowed in this case, don’t you?
P.P.S. A girl I went to college with said she paid LKR 4,000 for the whale watching cruise.