Written by Amos Nachoum
Recently, I’ve found myself fascinated by the value of waiting 28 years… Is there is anything worth waiting for so long? Yes: There is nothing like waiting to see the robust population of the Pygmy Blue whales off the coast of Sri Lanka.
Although called the Pygmy Blue whale, they are still giants reaching a length of over 60 feet. How many 60-foot animals have you seen passing in front of you only a few feet away??? Seeing up to seven blows, 30 feet high, in one glimpse over the horizon – that’s is a spectacle to behold. This is what I was waiting for – and so was everyone else in the natural history field and wildlife photography business.
All the big names in the business descended on Sri Lanka from February through April: The BBC…National Geo…Scuba Zoo and BigAnimals expeditions. Why? Now two years after the war is over in Sri Lanka, it is a wonderfully peaceful and safe country to travel through, with some of the best underwater wildlife you could hope to see, including Pygmy Blue whales. In the past five years, while the war was still ongoing, I visited Sri Lanka three times to size up the potential of a Blue whale expedition, and examine other cetacean populations, as well as raise the awareness with local tour operators about future eco-tourism and protection of wildlife.
Last month, I spent two weeks in Sri Lanka. I was operating off the coast of Trincomalee – Trinco, as they call it there. The Hindu people of Sri Lanka are very kind, easy going and inviting of us Westerners. They are proud people, gentle, eager to please and learn, catching up with us and the rest of the prosperous regions of India, Singapore, Malaysia and China, of course. The weather could not be more perfect …the wind hardly more than 10 knots, waves no more than one foot…sunny, warm in the 90s and up to 100, and in the water, mid 80s. Visibility – 10 miles out over the sea, and under the waves, 80 – 100 feet visibility.
The sea was calm every day with no exception, the beach was clean and the sunrise was spectacular. We started every morning at 6:30, and for the next ten hours we traveled some 20 miles east and 50 miles north to south, along the coast, and had quite a few fantastic encounters with Pygmy Blue whales, Sperm whales and enormous pods of Common and Spinner dolphins. There were many sightings of Blues everyday, and I swam with at least four of five different BigAnimals. One day I had over 67 minutes with one blue, while it was feeding. The strategy as always with Blues is patience. We spotted one whale and stayed with it. We shut of the engine and just observed. The Blue we were tracking dove, came back to the surface for fresh air, and started its circle swim around the patch of krill.
After seven to nine breaths it took another dive and showed up again only 100 feet away from its dive point, resuming its circle around the krill. I saw the pattern, and I took up my camera, moved gently into the water – free diving – no SCUBA at all, and circled with the whale for 67 minutes. The whale kept its comfort zone, about 40 feet away from me. Every time I started getting closer…it moved away…and every time the whale got closer to me in its search for food…it moved back out for its own comfort zone. In this 67 minutes, however, it dove only three times. My heart was pounding so fast, and after all these years I was still excited like it was my fist time with this Giant of all the ocean giants.
Am I going back? You bet you I am. And you are invited. Here is the scope of the future Blue whale adventure…in order to be environmentally sustainable and operating under the principles of Eco tourism, I am going to lead only two programs next season. One for four guests only, and your early reservation is highly recommended. The second program is available for one lucky TV team. This is a land based operation and I have an exclusive arrangement out of of Trinco with the largest tour operator in Sri Lanka, deploying two 20-foot local day boats, equipped with the latest 40hp, four-stroke engines, GPS — the best “technology” of all – the amazing enthusiasm of the local guides. If you are interested to be one of the pioneer swimmers (only free diving, no SCUBA!) with magnificent Blues, make your reservation with me now.