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Looking for whales

Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider rode out to the sea in search of the Great White in a big motorised boat called Orca, after the popularly, but mistakenly, known dolphin species called the Killer Whale.

world Updated: Mar 25, 2009 01:43 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider rode out to the sea in search of the Great White in a big motorised boat called Orca, after the popularly, but mistakenly, known dolphin species called the Killer Whale.

That was in 1975 in Hollywood’s first-ever summer blockbuster, the Spielberg-directed Jaws.

For the lakh-odd tourists who have sailed into the Indian Ocean from southern Sri Lanka looking for whales and dolphins
since November, the journey would have triggered less adrenaline rush (for one, they do not get to carry harpoons and steel cages) but definitely worth every drop of the sea water and each inch of sun-tan.

Whale and dolphin watching is becoming a big draw in the island nation. For tourists, the call of a unique experience is turning out to be as enticing as the Whale song from beneath the dark, unknown depths of an ancient ocean.

Indians too, though in lesser numbers, are responding to the call. (A private Indian airline is likely to offer a whale watching package soon).

Europeans have come in hordes. The main attraction — the Blue Whale, the largest mammal on earth.

“The best place to watch whales is the Dondra Point, the southern most tip of Sri Lanka. An advantage this point has is that within 6 km from the shoreline, the sea become two-km deep. A particular squid, which the Blue Whales, feed on is also found in plenty in this region. Migrating whales and fish have to touch this region while moving from Bay of Bengal-side to the Arabian Sea,’’ Dinesh Fernando, wildlife enthusiast, said.

According to Fenrnando, unlike in other whale watching points in the world (Japan, Norway) there is an 80 per cent to 90 per cent chance of coming across the mammal in Dondra. “Sometimes, you can one. Other times, there could be 20,’’ he said.

Sporadic reports of fishermen and tourists coming across pods of whales frolicking in Lankan waters were recorded in the last decade. But it’s only in the last two years that organised attempts were made to make whales a part of the tourism circuit.

Maldives-based marine biologist Charles Anderson, authority on Indian Ocean whales, was one of the first to predict the region’s potential for watching whales.

“I think Sri Lanka has enormous potential to be a whale destination. My experience was fantastic,’’ Anderson had predicted.

Luckily, there have been no reports of tourists ending up as whale snack either.

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