Thursday, 31 December 2015

Sri Lanka November/December 2015 Part 12 Whales to Wales

Our week in Mirissa was most enjoyable despite the continued rather changeable weather. A shower was virtually an everyday occurrence still but it didn't effect our enjoyment one little bit. The Spice House has ample outdoor but undercover space and no matter the weather it was always warm.
There isn't a huge amount to do in Mirissa unless you are interested in surfing , sunbathing or whale watching, which actually is enough to satisfy most people for a typical beach holiday. There are lots of restaurants right on the beach but we favoured just wandering down there for a sundowner.
Mirissa beach      Sri Lanka
The food at the Spice House too good to miss!
We decided we would go on a whale watching trip but would watch the weather to try and maximise our enjoyment. Guests at the hotel reported getting soaked to the skin and getting very seasick during the first few days we were there, we waited for 5 days before taking the plunge. Sightings had been sparse so far, we weren't expecting too much, particularly compared to our last trip when we had seen two Orca ( Killer Whale) at very,very close quarters. Still, we might see something new and it would break up the week. We chose one of several whale watching trips available, "Raja and the Whales". They come out number one on Trip Advisor and we were to find out very soon that they fully justify this position.
They are the first boat to leave port, around 6.30am,and they head out on their own. The others hunt in a pack and tend to carry far more passengers on most of them. I think we had 30-35.. Sailing in a pack means you have a better chance of finding a whale but it also means the whale is more likely to be disturbed . 
We took a couple of hours to get out as far as the shipping lanes where you find the whales on migration and despite searching failed to find anything. The sea was extremely choppy and people , including Claire who is normally fine, started to succumb to sea sickness. She went down to the lower deck leaving only myself and a handful of people upstairs where you felt the full sway of the boat.
Eventually the captain must have decided to join the pack as they reported having found a single specimen of Blue Whale. We arrived just in time to see it dive some  distance away but before long it was up again and this time very close however we were facing the sun and my pictures were both badly exposed and the subject blurred.
Whale watching    Sri Lanka
The sea might look flat but acquiring focus was pretty tricky. I was disappointed to say the least.
I had a trick up my sleeve though, I had recently purchased a polarising filter, I'd give it a try out to see if that helped. 
The whale resurfaced but once again my shots where a disaster. They were all far too dark. The filter has a little cog with which you adjust the amount of filtering, I had obviously overdone it. Once again I struggled with the heaving boat as I had to peel back the lenses protective covers before getting at the filter. It was then I realised I'd put it in back to front! Idiot, try again.
The problem was would the whale show again?
For a while we had nothing. The following pack dispersed back to port leaving just three boats, including ours. One of them seemed to be a non standard vessel whose manoeuvres didn't seem to be what you'd expect but rather they were attempting to push in front all the time. Raja and the Whales charge a little bit more than most but you get the best service. After the other two boats fell away and returned to port we carried on to get several more sightings.
The whale was fairly close too, here you can see the  "blow hole".
Blue Whale     Sri Lanka
In fact the views we had were much better than on our previous trip when we'd been far from impressed. Mind you we had just had a very close encounter with the Orcas beforehand.
Blue Whale     Sri Lanka
As the sea was that much rougher more of the whale seemed to be revealed but it's still the tip of the iceberg so to speak.
The main attraction is the tail.
Blue Whale     Sri Lanka
A casual flick as it dives down in to deeper water.
Blue Whale     Sri Lanka
You can clearly see all the Suckerfish that latch on to it's body to hitch a ride.
Blue Whale     Sri Lanka
The true enormity of the Blue Whale remains a mystery to me. You can only imagine what lies below the surface.When viewed at a different angle the tail appears much bigger but it's still relatively small compared to the overall size of it's owner.
Blue Whale     Sri Lanka
A magical sight.
Blue Whale     Sri Lanka
We returned to port well after everyone else, in fact it was 2.00pm whereas normally you get back as the others had done, around 12.00pm. All the boats guarantee a whale sighting or the offer of a free trip for another go and Raja is no exception. You got the impression that the other companies had just provided a whale sighting and called it quits. On the other hand maybe the passengers had had enough too!
Raja and the Whales     Sri Lanka
An early start and the sleepy effect of seasick pills took it's toll and I seemed the only person alert on the boat! Well. besides the crew of course.
I was happy with the outcome. We had seen just one whale but had had quite a few views, 6, maybe 7. It's speed is steady as is the time it spends submerged so it's a guessing game where and when it comes to the surface. Our boat had done well.
After 7 days in Mirissa it was time to head home, OK, I had seen only one new species to add to my bird list for the trip, a White-browed Bulbul
White-browed Bulbul     Sri Lanka
but I had made no attempt other than on the whale trip to take my big camera kit out looking for anywhere else, more than content with the hotel garden.
We did have one other encounter each evening we walked to the beach. The local fish stall has a near permanent resident which I captured with the 18mm lens of my Olympus Tough.
Cattle Egret     Sri Lanka
Who needs an electronic device to keep away the flies when you have this environmentally sound version. Just make sure you wash the fish!
As our flight back to the UK was at 4.00am and we had to arrive well in advance we had decided to take a taxi late on in the evening , after a final dinner at the Spice House in fact. They had kindly made a room available for us to shower and change and the taxi, which departed at 9.00am took the slower route to the airport with our full approval. That way we could catch a nap on the way which was just as well, yet again, and for the 4th time in 6 attempts Qatar Airways failed to get us to the connecting flight to Manchester so we had another 6 hours to add to the journey.
Once again, a letter has been sent questioning their claim to being the "World's Five Star Airline".
I await a reply.
Who knows, it might result in some more flight vouchers and then the decision where we will go next.
I wouldn't discount another return to Sri Lanka!

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