Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A rare encounter with the Gentle giants of Kalpitiya


Certain magnificent creatures have sought a safe haven in the seas off the North West of Sri Lanka, and made those waters, their home. In a bid to discover the wonders of these gentle giants the News1st team entered their territory only to witness something amazing.

Sri Lanka is known the world over for its Sun, Sand and Sea. Annually, hundreds of thousands of tourists, both local and foreign, flock to Sri Lanka’s coastline and beaches, which span nearly 1500 kilometers in length, to bask in the glory of these natural elements.

However, only a handful of people know of the Gentle Giants that exist a few feet under the surface of the ocean. Fewer still have been lucky to see them and interact with them.
The News1st team did get this golden opportunity to have a close encounter with these Gentle Giants, when we visited the North Western shores of Sri Lanka recently.
The whales and other marine mammals that swim the waters off Sri Lanka are a natural resource to us. They enrich our biodiversity while keeping the marine ecosystem in balance. Studies show that Sri Lankan waters are home to the largest concentration of Blue Whales in the world, these mammals also have the potential of becoming a major tourist attraction for Sri Lanka.

Wildlife Photographer and Filmmaker Patrick Dykstra notes that all around the world humans almost single-handedly caused the extinction of the biggest animal that inhabited the planet. He adds that at one time there were over 350 000 Blue Whales worldwide but following the whaling era, there may be as little as 3000.

Whales tend to migrate seasonally from one well-defined habitat to another. The location of marine mammal habitats is mainly defined by food availability. Areas such as Kalpitiya, Mirissa, Dondra and Trincomalee are known to be teeming with these Marine mammals.
However if we tend to be careless and exploit these creatures, by depleting their food sources through illegal fishing methods or engage in unethical tourism practices, such as steering boats too close to these animals, we could drive them away from our waters.
Unlike other animals such as the Elephant and Leopard who are confined to the boundaries of Sri Lanka, these mammals could swim away and never return, and nothing we do, could ever bring them back.

Research Director of the Center for Research on Indian Ocean Marine Mammals Howard Martenstyn says that the whales and dolphins that visit Sri Lanka are a critical resource to the country and it is an important to be more aware of these magnificent creatures.
Speaking to News 1st Founder Chairman of National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) Dr. Hiran W. Jayawardene emphasized on the need to enforce regulations in order to protect these marine mammals. Dr. Hiran W. Jayawardene says that the regulation of the Whale watching industry is poor, he notes that although regulations are in place there is dire need to properly enforce these regulations.
He adds that country could adopt systems from countries such as New Zealand and the United States of America that have have examples of a well regulated Whale watching industry.

Our plea to Sri Lanka and to the rest of the world is to remember that every time we take a boat and go out to sea, we are entering their domain and not vice versa. We need to protect and manage these Gentle Giants, study them, and learn about them, so that we can save them for our future generations.