Sri Lanka uses peace dividend to go whale watching

A whale watching boat from the popular Mirissa Water Sports / PORE

Now that Sri Lanka crushed the rebel Tamil Tigers in 2009, what are its armed forces supposed to do? Go whale watching. That’s what defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordered. The stilted official Sri Lanka newspaper the Daily News says the Navy will convert the “A 543 passenger transport vessel” to whale watching so that the government can “realize its aim of becoming the Miracle of Asia.”

Sri Lanka is no stranger to whale watching and other kinds of animal tourism, going back at least a decade. But the grinding war put a damper on both tourism and biological research.

The militaristic announcement says the Navy will sail on 3- and 6-hour cruises from October to February between Colombo to Kalpitiya. Don’t worry, it’s rates will be “very affordable.” They expect to entertain foreigners and locals since “Sri Lanka is privileged with many resources which is hardly visible in other countries.”

Despite the military tone of the operation, it’s sweet how Sri Lanka seems to banking big on whale-watching as part of a green economy. For more than two decades research on whales ground to a halt as the Tigers waged their unsuccessful battle for independence. In 2003 researchers returned and found a huge concentration of blue whales, plus fin whales (Balaenoptera physelus), humpback whales (Megaptera novceanglias), sperm whale (Physeter catodor) (found from Yala to Trincomalee) and minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).

The same waters have plenty of private dolphin cruises to see the island’s five dolphin species: Risso’s (Grampus grigeus), Fraser’s (Lagenodelphis hosei), bottlenose (Turiops truncates), spinner (Stenella longirostrus) and pantropical spotted (Stenella attenuata). The government is also pushing fishermen to alter their gill nets so they don’t kill as many spinner dolphins as by-catch.

Southern Sri Lanka: Dondra Head, Sri Lanka’s southern tip, gets migrating whales in its super-deep water from November to April. The coast off Mirissa gets blue, humpback and sperm whales during that time. In the north, Kalpitiya gets pods of thousands of dolphins.

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