Posts Tagged ‘Whalewatching’

Mirissa whale boats to be reined in

February 22, 2017

whalegraphicMore regulations and guidelines will be imposed on whale-watching boat operators in Mirissa. Licenses will not be issued to vessels this year as part of the measures planned, wildlife officials say.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation says regulations will be updated, while the Ministry of Tourism wants to upgrade the infrastructure.

Sri Lanka is famous as a popular spot for whale watching, especially blue whales. Trincomalee, Kalpitiya and the southern sea off Mirissa are the ideal locations. The commercial whale watching industry at Mirissa started in 2008 and soon drew converted fishing boats. Some operators sail too close to the whales and put tourists at risk, while harassing the massive mammals.

To regulate the industry, the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance was updated in 2012 with 14 guidelines. But now after taking the advice of whale experts’ the DWC is planning to introduce a new set of guidelines, said Channa Suraweera of the marine division.

Activists say the number of vessels needs to be controlled, considering the chaos in Yala.

Regulations require whale-watching boats to get approval from the DWC. Suraweera also said licences will not issued to whale watching boats this year for the season that lasts until October. Monitoring is done with the support of the coast guard and the navy.

Suraweera said the DWC too will increase monitoring, revealing that a ticketing system will be introduced in Mirissa.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife Gamini Jayawickrema Perera said about 500 will be recruited to the Department of Wildlife and some of them could be assigned to monitoring whale-watching.

The Tourism Minister’s Secretary, Janaka Sugathadasa, said the industry should self-regulate for the sake of its own sustainability. The Tourism Ministry officials have also met whale-watching tour operators, Fisheries Harbour Corporation, DWC, local councils, and other stake holders recently.

Sri Lanka has a unique position to promote upmarket whale-watching tourism, so it is also important to upgrade the infrastructure, Sugathadasa pointed out. He said a separate jetty has been proposed and a pre-feasibility study will be soon started.

Sugathadasa also agreed the number of boats should be controlled.

Published on SundayTimes on 19.02.2017

The commercial whale watching industry at Mirissa started in 2008 and soon drew converted fishing boats. (File pic)

Knocked by a whale into a tailspin

July 31, 2013
How often does one get hit by a giant whale and live to tell the tale? Sri Lankan born Dr. Bishan Rajapakse recounts his horrifying ordeal at Bondi Beach in Australia 

It was a normal day on Sydney’s picturesque Bondi Beach. Bishan Rajapakse, a Sri Lankan born medical doctor was with his friends enjoying the waves and the sun on his surfboard. At about 9.30 the surfers were suddenly surprised at the sight of a dark patch that approached them. “It’s a whale” somebody shouted.

Bishan Rajapakse at St Vincents’ Hospital in Sydeny

The giant whale was only few yards away and Bishan turned to have another look while trying to catch a wave. ‘Bang’ was all he remembers, but a video someone shot from the beach shows Bishan’s surf board going up in the air like a toy having been hit by the whale’s large tail.

Bishan lost consciousness but thankfully for him his friends were close and the lifeguards quickly came to his rescue. Bishan was rushed to the hospital and received treatment for shoulder injuries. The incident, which happened early this month, soon became hot news, being picked up by the international media. A video of the moment the whale hit Bishan went viral on social media.

The Sunday Times caught up with Bishan via Skype shortly after he left hospital. Bishan says that he saw the whale approach and the next thing he knew he was waking up on the beach. “I just remember this magnificent whale slowly coming to the right of me and coming for another look. I just kind of felt like talking to it like a dog or an animal, and saying ‘hey’, and that was it.”

The whale was a Southern Right Whale, a common sight from the Sydney coast at this time of year; but they rarely come this close to the beach. “I’ve seen whales in this area, but this is the biggest I’ve ever seen. It looked so massive at close range,” said Bishan, likening its size to that of a mini bus.

Spotted: Surfers get close to the huge Southern Right whale, a common sight from the Sydney coast at this time of year; but the whales rarely come this close to the beach (Reuters)

Several people who witnessed the whole episode from the beach were amazed that Bishan survived with only minor injuries. Bishan however stresses that the whale was not aggressive. “The whale was floating and would never have meant to harm me. It was purely an accident,” said Bishan who adds that they were too close to the whale. He also points out that this is a good lesson for others, for attempting to get closer to these gentle giants is not safe as their movements can be unpredictable.

A 38-old- medical doctor by profession now based in New Zealand, Bishan was born in Wellawatte, Colombo. His father, also a medical doctor went abroad for studies and then on foreign assignments. He was just six months old when they left, but Bishan has nurtured a strong love for the country, coming back in 2006 to do post-tsunami work. He was in Sri Lanka until 2010 doing research on improving mortality and morbidity from pesticide self-poisoning in many areas in Sri Lanka.

Having travelled extensively in Sri Lanka, Bishan is fascinated with the country’s wildlife.

A good lesson for Sri Lankan ‘whale watchers’

Bishan’s ordeal is a good lesson for Sri Lanka too where reports of whale watching boats getting too close to the whales have been rife. Whales are gentle giants and usually not violent, but if they make a sudden turn or dive, an accidental touch could easily topple a boat. Regular whale watchers have complained that although some boats now provide life jackets, they are not in good condition. Such an unfortunate accident may endanger Sri Lanka’s reputation as a top whale destination.

Last year Whale Watching regulations that laid down the minimum distances to get closer to a whale as 100 metres and that stipulated that a boat should not ply in front of or behind the mammals, or block the route of the whale were passed by Parliament. But how they will be implemented remains to be seen.

Published on SundayTimes on 28.07.2013

ABC - arial view of whale - me and chris

An arial image taken few minutes before the accident (c) ABC/Flickr