Sri Lanka ranks among the best places in the world to see whales. Ten different species are present in the deep waters off the island’s shoreline, including the largest mammal on the planet: the mighty blue whale. And unlike most other locations where you can sight these majestic creatures in the wild, here you can combine a whale spotting cruise with a land-based safari to see leopards and elephants as well, all within the space of a couple of days – something that’s truly unique!
Where and When to go Whale Watching in Sri Lanka
There are three main centres for cetacean spotting in Sri Lanka. If it’s the big blue you’re keenest to see, then you’ll have to plan to be on the south coast, around Galle and Mirissa, between February and mid-March, when the whales pause on their annual migration to feed on the krill that appears here at this time.
Feb–March is also the time to see whales in Kalpitiya – a wild, windswept peninsula in northwest Sri Lanka that attracts ‘super pods’ of up 150 sperm whales. It’s also a fantastic place to see spinner dolphins, which leap through the surf most mornings and evenings.
If the summer vacation is your only holiday window, fear not: in July and August the seas off Trincomalee, on the east coast, attract large numbers of whales and dolphins too.
Cruises and Responsible Tourism
The past decade has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of people going on whale spotting cruises in Sri Lanka. This sudden spike in traffic is causing concern among conservation groups, such as the Born Free Foundation (BFF) and World Cetacean Alliance (WCA), who believe it may be having a detrimental impact on the whales’ foraging and socializing activities. Eager to please their passengers, some skippers get too close to the whales, and approach at speeds and from directions that may cause distress to the animals.
A code of conduct has yet to be devised for Sri Lanka, but in the meantime, rest assured we only use cruise companies who adhere to the guidelines supplied by the WCA regarding safe viewing distances and angles of approach. We also only put our clients in mid-sized boats, run by firms maintaining international standards of safety.
Whales by Catamaran
As an alternative to the regular whale watching cruises, we recommend taking a luxury catamaran out of Mirissa, complete with chef to whip up a delicious full breakfast and a three-course lunch. En route back to port, the crew will anchor for a spot of paddle boarding and swimming. All equipment is provided.
Whales: From the Air
For an entirely unique experience, climb aboard a 3-seater plane for an hour-long whale spotting flight over the beautiful coast of southern Sri Lanka. Aerial watching ensures you have the best views while causing no disturbance to the waters below (and avoiding sea sickness, of course, should you be prone to it). The flights take off from Koggala airfield, which will also allow you to get a bird’s-eye view of the lush countryside inland. Keen photographers particularly enjoy this option.