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Sunday, 6 February 2011





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Navy ship on maiden voyage to spot:


As the rays of the sun were shining on the splendid sea surface in Galle the Sri Lanka Navy base Dhakshina was receiving some visitors at its pier. Fast Personnel Career A-543 which was used to transport service personnel by sea during the humanitarian operation docked at the Pier with a new look was waiting to receive those visitors.

This time it was not the Forces personnel who were awaiting to board the ship but a special set of invitees from the tourism industry, hoteliers, travel agencies and the media who were ready to board to launch this new operation.

The Captain of the ship Commander Miranda along with the ship's crew were waiting to set sail once the invitees boarded along with the Navy Commander Vice Admiral Somathilaka Dissanayake to launch this second nautical enterprise by the Navy - whale watching.

Everybody, on board the ship were eager to start their voyage to see the whales, the biggest animal on earth.

The ship slowly moved into the deep sea off Galle after sailing some two nautical miles from the Galle harbour and started its voyage towards Mirissa in the South of Galle.

All were free, either to remain seated or to move into the upper deck or side decks as the ship had the capacity to accommodate 300 people at once with 24 seat VIP deck unlike the small craft used by other whale watching operators.

The Southern Naval Commander Rear Admiral Lakshman Ilangakoon, in his presentation on board the ship to the invitees said that Mirissa was one of the best places in the world for whale watching.

"Mirissa is apparently the best destination in the world to see whales as it has very deep depth that is very close to the land. Whales prefer more than one kilometre depth and in Dondra that one kilometer depth is very close to the shore", Rear Admiral Ilangakoon added.

To reach Mirissa you have to sail 20 nautical miles from Galle and it is roughly about a one hour journey in the calm sea as the ship was sailing at a speed of 25 nautical miles per hour.

Whales breaking the surface

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Somathilaka Dissanayake, Galle MP Manusha Nanayakkara and Galle Mayor Methsiri de Silva on board A-543

Everybody on board the ship including Navy Commander Vice Admiral Somathilaka Dissanayaka, Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara, Galle Mayor Methsiri de Silva took that time to have a snack on the upper deck whilst journalists were pouring numerous questions at them.

Except for the bigger ships passing your way and the shore line in the southern tip of the country, there is little you can see within the first hour but after reaching deep sea, some 10 nautical miles off Mirissa you have to be very vigilant if you really want to see the biggest mammal on earth.

All were silent and watching very carefully to locate whales but it was a very difficult task when the sea surface is not so calm.

According to Anoma Alagiyawadu a naturalist working with the tourism industry who was on board the ship said that in Mirissa people can watch blue whale and the sperm whale together.

If you have not studied the animal very well and about their body features you cannot differentiate the blue whale from the sperm whale.

Spray of a whale

The sea around Sri Lanka is a haven for whales as it is located in the mid of their migrating channel from the Somalian sea area to Bay of Bengal at different periods in the year.

It was around 9 am in the morning and everybody was keen to locate whales keeping their eyes wide open to grab the opportunity whilst many other small craft with tourists on board were hovering in the sea with the same intention.

"There, there!", somebody was pointing and shouting and all on deck were looking at the sea. Someone has seen a spray of a whale, the first sign to identify a location where whales are roaming about. Whales used to surface and spout a spray of water and take a fresh supply of air to its lungs.

But very rarely the whales appear on the surface of the sea and it requires a very calm sea to very clearly see the whales on the surface. "This is something akin to combing the entire Yala Park to see wild elephants", somebody on the deck was saying.

The frequent sprays visible on the sea indicated that the whales were there and a part of their body and fins were visible. So it was an exercise of patience for anybody to engage in and the more patient you are the bigger the chances of spotting the largest mammal on earth alive.

The photographers were keen on capturing the appearance of a whale but the relatively disturbed waters did not give them a chance during the maiden voyage of the Navy ship A-543 on whale watching.

Watching for whales on board A-543

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Somathilaka Dissanayaka was very keen on popularising the whale watching enterprise among the locals and foreigners similar to the Jet Liner ship which had become the most sought venue to host parties and private functions.

"We are ready to carry out this new venture of whale watching for the benefit of the whale watching enthusiasts and popularise it among the people and provide them a safer whale watching journey", the Navy Commander said whilst concluding the voyage.

The Navy expects to run this service four days a week from Dhakshina Naval Base in Galle till April and later shift the venue to Trincomalee and Kalpitiya which are also famed for whale watching.

"The venue of the operation will be changed according to monsoonal patterns and sea conditions enabling the whale watching enthusiasts from any part of the country to have this opportunity", he added.



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