Thursday, September 24, 2015

Eid Mubarak to all!! From the Jetwing Family!

Eid Mubarak to all ! From the Jetwing Family

Jetwing Yala wins at PATA Wild Asia Awards

Jetwing Yala wins at PATA Wild Asia Awards

Jetwing Yala  General Manager Gamunu Srilal receiving the Wild Asia award
Tented Villas, Jetwing Yala, Sri Lanka
Jetwing Yala of Jetwing Hotels was adjudged the ‘Best in Resource Efficiency’ by the Wild Asia Awards, awarded at the PATA Travel Mart 2015.
Wild Asia aims to recognize tourism operators who are making a positive difference in the destination where they operate by adopting sustainable management practices.
Jetwing Yala is the only Sri Lankan property to be recognized this year, winning the award for Best Resource Efficiency – which is given to properties that exhibit ‘excellence in waste, water and energy management and sustainable architectural design in order to minimize environmental impact’.
Jetwing Yala was launched in January 2014, and has established itself as the beacon of the Deep South of Sri Lanka. Featuring 80 rooms and 10 luxury tented villas, Jetwing Yala brings world class luxury and hospitality to the wilderness of Yala, overlooking massive sand dunes and the vibrant hues of the Indian Ocean. The entire property was designed from ground up to be as sustainable as possible, to match the local ecosystem by maximizing natural ventilation and lighting, along with muted colours to complement the surroundings.
Energy conservation initiatives include illumination through 100% LED lighting and feature LED backlit TVs in guest rooms; a biomass boiler that burns cinnamon wood (sourced through local suppliers) for night time hot water generation along with providing steam for an absorption chiller which supplies the hotel’s entire air conditioning needs (similar to Jetwing Lagoon); a central solar hot water system for daytime demand; and the largest privately opened solar park in the country that is already providing 40% of the hotel’s daily electricity demand.
In addition, no organic waste is taken outside the property - treated on-site to ensure 100% recycling and used as organic fertilizer for the hotel gardens.
Waste water is also treated on-site, through an effluent treatment plant which is used in the gardens once again and in the air-conditioning cooling towers.
Jetwing Yala General Manager Gamunu Srilal said "Jetwing Yala has been at the forefront of the Jetwing family’s efforts to continuously improve in terms of responsible tourism and we look forward to welcoming the world to our beautiful island”. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Death Trap Kills Giant Leopard

The corpse of a giant leopard which had died last night caught in an electric trap which had been installed for boars was discovered this morning by Wildlife officers from Top Pass woods in Labukele, Nuwara Eliya. 

It is mentioned that this leopard is 7ft 4 inches long and about 7 years old. 

The wildlife officers presented the corpse of the leopard to the Regional Court at Nuwara Eliya. 

The Court had ordered the body to be submitted to the Wildlife School at Nuwara Eliya.

pix by - Ranjith Rajapaksha

Via Hiru News

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Odel launches campaign to protect Yala wildlife

Sept 19, 2015 (LBO) – To encourage responsible behaviour during wildlife watching in Sri Lanka’s Yala national park, ODEL plans to install signboards and launch a media campaign, the company said.
“Protecting the animals of Yala from irresponsible and ignorant visitors has become an urgent priority,” said Desiree Karunaratne, group marketing director of Softlogic Holdings, the parent company of the ODEL retail chain.
“But Yala is just the beginning of a larger, longer term commitment by ODEL to inculcate the true values of experiencing and appreciating Sri Lanka’s wildlife among visitors to nature reserves,” she said.
The erection of 4’ x 4’ signboards with guidelines at Yala will take place during the closure of the park from 7th September to 7th October.
Yala, which combines a strict nature reserve with a national park, was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and declared a national park in 1938.
It is home to 44 varieties of mammals and 215 bird species, and has a leopard density that is higher than anywhere else on the planet, the statement said.
Divided into five blocks, the park has a protected area of nearly 130,000 hectares of land consisting of light forest, scrub, grassland, tanks and lagoons. Besides leopard, Yala is famous for presence of elephants, sloth bears, sambhur, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks, and crocodiles.
ODEL will also launch a new collection of clothing, accessories and stationery linked to its ‘Luv SL’ label, and set aside part of the sales for the cause.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Orca Project In Sri Lanka – An Ongoing Study Of The World’s Most Dominant Predator In Sri Lankan Waters

Words by : Georgina Gemmell

  |     Marianne Taylor & Michaela Hanusova of Whale Watching with Geeth

An apex predator of the ocean and iconic star of the hit film Free Willy, orcas (or killer whales) are generally not considered a tropical species. Though widely thought to roam in only cold or temperate waters, orcas are in fact one of the most widely distributed mammals on earth (second only to us humans), occurring in all of the world’s oceans from the frigid waters of the poles right through to the tropics…including these very waters, here in Sri Lanka.
Very little is known about the orcas that are sighted off the island each year, with only a handful of annual encounters, many questions surround this secretive population. However, as more people take to the water to enjoy Sri Lanka’s rich whale watching offerings, the opportunity to encounter and photograph these enigmatic visitors also presents an opportunity to study them; and Orca Project Sri Lanka (OPSL), a pioneering citizen-science initiative, is currently doing just that.
The project is the joint initiative of myself (Georgina Gemmell), head of ecotourism for John Keells Chitral Jayatilake, and wildlife tourism champion Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne. While the study is only in its infancy, through working alongside the public OPSL has already begun to unravel some of the most basic mysteries surrounding these elusive whales. In addition to keeping a sightings log, orca images submitted by the public are used as part of an on-going Photo ID study, to identify and ‘track’ orca individuals. Across the world, Photo ID is one of the most widely used methods to study orca populations. It has the benefit of being completely passive, allowing researchers to follow orcas’ lives without disturbing them. Though it is patient research, in time Photo ID could reveal population estimates, sex ratios, births, deaths, movements, ecotypes, insights into diet and much more. Individual orcas are distinguished using three methods, one is using the unique marks, scars and tears (nicks) found on the dorsal fin, another may be the shape and marks on the saddle patch (the light grey area shaped like a saddle on the orca’s back, at the base of the dorsal fin), and the third is using the characteristic white eye patch above and behind the orca’s eye. Here in Sri Lanka, the orcas’ saddle patches are too faint to be a reliable feature for ID, so only the dorsal fin and eye patch are used.
Already, Orca Project Sri Lanka has revealed some interesting and globally significant discoveries about these enigmatic visitors. The ID catalogue currently holds 13 individuals, and has provided the first confirmation that some orca travel all around the island, being sighted in Kalpitya (in the northwest), Mirissa (in the south) and Trincomalee (in the northeast). It appears that some individuals do indeed return to the island each year, with sightings being highest between November to January and March to April, which coincide with the Blue and Sperm whale season for the south and north, suggesting that the orcas may be in the area to predate on these species. In our recent publication ‘Killer Whale Predation on Whales in Sri Lankan Waters’ (currently in press with the journal Aquatic Mammals), OPSL revealed that orcas prey on other whale species here in Sri Lanka. The publication gained international recognition and generated a lot of interest among the marine mammal scientific community. It describes three predation events that took place off Mirissa, including the globally rare event of orcas attacking Sperm whales. It also provides the first official confirmation that orcas prey on Mesoplodont beaked whales, a little-studied and rarely seen deep diving cetacean. The paper also presents strong circumstantial evidence that suggests orcas may be opportunistically preying on Blue whales while in Sri Lanka.
Even though the orca is generally considered a single species (Orcinus orca) research has shown that orcas occur in different eco , Whatypes (like races), genetically distinct from one another, and specializing in a certain type of prey. In some parts of the world, the Pacific Northwest and Antarctica for example, more than one ecotype occur in the same waters but do not interbreed. We do not yet know if eco types occur in Sri Lankan orcas, and while we know that they hunt other whales we don’t yet know if they take other kinds of prey as well. It is hoped that with the support of the public, this exciting project will continue to grow and reveal more about this little-studied population, laying a foundation for future studies, and continuing to contribute to the overall scientific knowledge available for this iconic, complex and fascinating species.
If you have seen orcas off Sri lanka and would like to contribute your sighting or images to the study, please contact us at All images will remain the copyright of the photographer, and all credit for the sighting remains that of the observer.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Elevating Sri Lanka: Jetwing Hotels wins environmental awards

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Known as Sri Lanka’s premier hospitality brand, Jetwing was once again honored with the prestigious PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) Grand Award in the Environment category for the entry titled “The Success of Self-Reliance” – a thorough and comprehensive entry focusing on the sustainability initiatives undertaken at Jetwing Yala, and a PATA Gold Award (Promotional E-Newsletter) in the Marketing category for “The Front Desk.” This occasion marks the third consecutive year Jetwing has won a Grand Award; and also the only Sri Lankan company to win awards this year.

The PATA Gold Awards put the spotlight on tourism innovation and excellence. This year’s awards attracted 269 entries from 83 organizations and individuals worldwide, the highest numbers since 2007. Judged by panels of experts, the PATA Awards recognize exceptional achievement in six categories:-Marketing, Environment, Heritage and Culture, Education and Training, Marketing Media and Travel Journalism with Grand Awards given for four. The award ceremony took place at the PATA Travel Mart this September, in Bangalore, with Managing Director Ruan Samarasinghe accepting the Gold Award for the Front Desk and Gamunu Srilal – General Manager of Jetwing Yala – receiving the Grand Award.
Jetwing Yala was launched in January 2014, and has quickly established itself as the beacon of the Deep South of Sri Lanka. Featuring 80 rooms and 10 luxury tented villas, Jetwing Yala brings world class luxury and hospitality to the wilderness of Yala, in a stunning location overlooking massive sand dunes and the vibrant hues of the Indian Ocean. The entire property was designed from ground up to be as sustainable as possible, with an acre dedicated to a solar park (one of the country’s largest privately owned solar parks) containing over 1000 panels, generating 40% of the hotel’s electricity demand, a biomass boiler which utilizes cinnamon wood to power a vapor absorption chiller (which in turn powers air conditioning) and a composting machine that reduces processing from the standard 40 days to 14-20 days.
Functioning as the Jetwing brand’s regular communication with its public, The Front Desk provides a constant and consistent look at the company’s progress, instilling a sense of familiarity and belonging among visitors in a personal form of digital communication. The title symbolizes the functions of the reception at a hotel, be it a warm welcome, acting as an information provider, and a source of communication between hotel and guest. In addition, the layout was constructed around the concept of guest relations, to provide information, generate interest, and to foster communication between Jetwing and international visitors in a professional and attractive design.
“To us at Jetwing, this award is more than just a trophy; rather, it is the international recognition of our commitment and efforts in ensuring that Sri Lanka, a land of beauty and blessed by nature, will be passed down to our children and yours, to be lived in and experienced to her fullest,” said Hiran Cooray, Chairman of Jetwing. “If you look at all the other winners, the majority belong to the tourism authorities of countries – Hong Kong, Australia, Taiwan and Korea for example. To be recognized and winning both a Grand and a Gold Award speaks volumes about our efforts, and proves that we as a country and a company are on the right path,” he continued.
Family owned and in the tourism industry for the past 42 years, Jetwing Hotels has surpassed expectation at every aspect. Building on their foundation of being passionate, as well as the experience of true, traditional Sri Lankan hospitality, constantly pioneering discoveries captures the essence of the brand. Such a strong statement and direction have enabled Jetwing Hotels to imagine, create and manage marvels and masterpieces, where distinctive design and elegant comfort complement each other and the environment. Considered a priority, sustainable and responsible practice is implemented through the award winning Jetwing Eternal Earth Program; with energy efficiency, community upliftment, and education of earth saving measures to schoolchildren being a few tenets of the Program.

Seal spotted surfing humpback whale in Australia

Image copyrightRobyn Malcolm /
Image captionSurf's up: the seal was spotted on the whale off Eden in New South Wales

An Australian photographer has captured a rare moment of animal communion with a shot of a fur seal surfing a humpback whale off the New South Wales coast.
Robyn Malcolm had been photographing a pod of whales on a feeding frenzy 500km (310 miles) south of Sydney.
But she only realised she had taken the unusual picture when she went through the photos later, she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Animal experts say that witnessing such a partnership is rare.

Photograph of seal riding whale in AustraliaImage copyrightRobyn Malcolm /
Image captionA closer look at the adventurous fur seal

New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife whale expert Geoff Ross told the paper the coupling was very rare but he had heard of it happening once before.
"The only other time was a seal trying to get away from a killer whale... the seal hopped on the back of the pectoral fins of a humpback whale," he said.
Ms Malcolm insisted that the photo was not doctored.
"I'm positive, because I don't know how to use Photoshop. And I do still have it on the camera so I can prove it," she told the newspaper.

Photograph of seal riding whale in AustraliaImage copyrightRobyn Malcolm /
Image captionAnd once more with feeling

The meeting of seal and whale is the latest in a series of serendipitous animal piggyback rides which have been captured this year.
In March, amateur photographer Martin Le-May shot this picture of a weasel clinging on to the back of a woodpecker at Hornchurch Country Park in east London.

Woodpecker flying with weasel on back, Hornchurch EssexImage copyrightMartin Le-May
Image captionBosom buddies? Sadly the picture actually shows a baby weasel attacking the woodpecker

In June, a family walking in a forest in central Florida spotted this raccoon hitching a ride on the back of an alligator.
Mr Richard Jones told local television station WFTV that he "snapped a lucky picture right when the gator slipped into the water and before the raccoon jumped off and scurried away".

Racoon on the back of an alligatorImage copyrightWFTV
Image captionThe racoon and alligator were seen in Ocala National Forest


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Increase in Tourists visiting Lunugamvehera National Wildlife Park

The number of tourists visiting the Lunugamvehera National Wildlife Park has increased with the closure of the Yala National Wildlife Park for maintenance. Yala National Park was closed for visitors from 07th September to 07th October 2015 owing to the prevailing drought and for maintenance purposes.

The Lunugamvehera National Wildlife Park is considered to have the largest number of wildlife when compared with the land area of local wildlife parks. It is situated next to the Yala Wildlife Park bordering the Menik Ganga and spreads over more than 23,000 hectares of land.

Wildlife Officials say that the Lunugamvehera National Wildlife Park has 43 animal species, 184 bird species, 13 species of reptiles, 12 species of amphibians and 21 fish species. They said that there are many facilities for the tourists in the park.


Wild Sri Lanka!

''Sri Lanka is one of the best locations in the world, if not the best, for wildlife tourism, asserts naturalist Gehan de Silva Wijeyaratne''

Gehan addressing the gathering - pic courtesy Virtusa 
Untitled-3 Untitled-4
By Himal KotelawalaUntitled-6
Picture this: You’re a traveller from Western Europe with a penchant for amateur photography and a keen eye for all things wild (in a strictly flora and fauna kind of sense). You’ve dabbled in wildlife photography before, but being limited to the cold and at times desolate and unforgiving environs of your continent as you are, when it comes to capturing big game or exotic birds in their natural habitat, you aren’t exactly spoilt for choice. So, wishing to expand your horizons, you decide to hit the great outdoors, armed with your brand new DSLR camera and 300mm zoom lens, as far away from home as possible. But where do you go?
Suddenly, your options seem endless. If you want to see wild elephants or big cats, there is the Serengeti in Eastern Africa. If it is lush tropical rainforests you’re after, there is the Amazon in South America. You want to see blue whales? Try the pacific coast off North America. But, you wonder, what if you want to see them all in one go (without heading to the zoo or tuning into Animal Planet)? If only there was one place on Earth where you could try all of this at once. One place that offered you a vast variety of amazing creatures, wild and free, found nowhere else in the world.
Buzzing with newfound enthusiasm, you do your research and you find that there is, in fact, such a place. It’s the perfect getaway, with its breath-taking golden beaches, misty mountains and a rich cultural heritage that goes back millennia – and a treasure trove for naturalists, hippies, beach bums, wildlife enthusiasts and thrill seekers alike. A little tropical island north of the equator, just south of India, called Sri Lanka.
This scenario is naturalist Gehan de Silva Wijeyaratne’s dream come true. A crusader for the twin causes of wildlife promotion and conservation, Gehan contends – and he makes a pretty convincing case for it – that Sri Lanka is one of the best locations in the world, if not the best, for wildlife tourism.
“Sri Lanka has it all”
This writer had the good fortune to listen to Gehan speak on this very topic, at a public lecture organised by the Virtusa Corporation last Tuesday. And what he revealed there was nothing short of mind blowing.
“Sri Lanka has it all. In terms of the proverbial complete package, Sri Lanka is unparalleled,” he says.
In his line of work, Gehan often runs into sceptics who question the validity of this claim. And it’s not hard to see why. When contrasted with the big game found in Africa and the massive rainforests of Malaysia and elsewhere, conventional wisdom says that Sri Lanka couldn’t possibly be home to the kind of widespread biodiversity that would attract international wildlife tourists. This, says Gehan, couldn’t be further from the truth.
“You can go to Mirissa and see blue whales, sperm whales and dolphins. And then you can drive a bit further down south and see leopards in Yala. There aren’t many countries in the world where you get this combination,” he says.
The kind of combination, argues Gehan, that could have unprecedented economic dividends for the country in terms of foreign revenue.
“Wildlife has many dimensions. Remember we’re still a poor/middle income country, and we need to use our assets to generate revenue and uplift the state of the country economically. Singapore doesn’t have the kind of wildlife we have, but they’re still very good in how they manage their wildlife nature reserves. We have so much more, and we need to develop that in the way Singapore and London have done with their limited resources,” says Gehan.
Let’s do the math. 
There is a huge number of international tourists coming to Mirissa every year for whale watching alone. Supposing the Department of Wildlife values a guest at $ 50 for a single boat trip, for a thousand guests, the total would be $ 50,000. Each guest brings with them at least a 1,000 dollars – probably more, for accommodation, transport, etc.– and if you add up the revenue from just 200 trips, that’s a lot of foreign money coming into the country.
Gehan estimates that wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka maybe worth 40-50, maybe even a 100 million dollars. Pretty crazy.
And with the advent of social media, this figure is only going to go up.
“If you go on a trip, and you flood Facebook with pictures of whales and motivate others to come to Sri Lanka rather than go to, says, the Maldives or the Caribbean, it could do wonders for tourism in Sri Lanka,” says Gehan.
And why wouldn’t they opt to come here? As Gehan points out, during your stay in Sri Lanka, you can catch some rays on the beach, see some whales in Mirissa or Kalpitiya, go on a leopard safari in Yala and marvel at the wild elephants in Wilpattu or Minneriya. (Minneriya is home to the largest annual gathering of wild elephants in the world).
“I don’t think there is awareness of how much money wildlife tourism is generating for this country. In 2008, we used minimum rates and did a calculation (with room charges, etc.) and the total came up to about a billion rupees. Now, post war, rates have doubled; there are more rooms available, and thanks to internationally produced documentaries spreading the word globally, the figure has probably doubled or tripled,” he says.
Gehan himself had a part to play in the recently released Wild Sri Lanka: a National Geographic special. His book, also titled Wild Sri Lanka, served as the basis for the hugely successful documentary that included, among other things, awe inspiring underwater footage of a super-pod of sperm whales. (Incidentally, Sri Lanka offers the best chance in the world for spotting super-pods of sperm whales).
And then there are the birds. According to Gehan, half the scientific orders of birds found in the world can be spotted in Sri Lanka – some endemic, some migratory.
Sri Lanka’s reptile population is 14 times richer per unit area than some of the bigger islands such as Madagascar and Borneo (about 350 species of reptiles in total – “notso reassuring, is it,” he adds with a chuckle).
Three key factors
Gehan has identified three factors that make Sri Lanka so disproportionately rich for wildlife:
Physical factors – a continental island, monsoons, isolated physically from India for a long time which has allowed species to become endemic. Sri Lanka has 103 river systems and deep seas close to the island which brings whales closer in(especially sperm whales normally found in deep waters).
Evolutionary factors – such as land-bridge connections and species radiations.
Human factor – landthat had been cultivated in ancient times, the Minneriya and Kaudulla tanks, etc., after they went wild, provided water for elephants. Leopards, too, have a high density in Yala due to man-made factors. Sri Lanka doesn’t have any natural lakes other than the villus in Wilpattu, says Gehan. All water bodies in Yala are man-made, providing grazing ground for spotted deer – forestscleared over a thousand years ago now functioning as grasslands, ideal conditions for spotted deer. A thriving deer population, naturally, means a lot of leopards
High species richness
According to Gehan, for an island so small, Sri Lanka has a surprisingly and astonishingly high species richness per unit area. Higher than most countries.
“You might think that Sri Lanka is small, but you can see how much more relatively rich Sri Lanka is. If we as Sri Lankans don’t realise that something very special has been going on in this country, how do we tell other people? We need to get the message out,” says Gehan.
Exactly how did such a small island become home to such diverse wildlife?
Gehan says a tempting and intuitive answer could be Ice Ages that happened in Europe, of all places, creating land bridges between India and Sri Lanka
“Massive amounts of water evaporated off the ocean and deposited as ice on land. Europe was completely frozen. The ice was so thick that the land actually sunk several kilometres under its weight. You can imagine how much ice there was. As a result, so much water came off the ocean that the sea level fell. As this happened, areas off Mannar in Sri Lanka became land,” he said.
This provided the perfect opportunity for animals on the Indian mainland to make their way to this country.
But Gehan isn’t convinced. It cannot possibly be that straightforward.
“When biologists do phylogenetic molecular analysis using DNA, they can work out when these speciation events took place, when this richness of species in Sri Lanka happened (about 40 million years ago. Unfortunately the convenient explanation doesn’t work,” he says.
We may never know what exactly led to this turn of events that led to our current abundance of wildlife, but that’s okay, says Gehan.
“It remains a mystery, but it doesn’t matter. Science doesn’t quite have all the answers, but we know we live in an incredibly special island,” he says.
Conservation through commerce
Gehan is a pioneering and prominent figure in wild life promotion and conservation in Sri Lanka. His love for the country and its biosphere is obvious. A civil engineer and chartered accountant by profession, he has worked on the basis that conservation can be achieved through commerce.
“If wildlife can be branded to provide livelihoods, there is an economic rationale for conservation. It is easier for local communities to grasp this than the eco-system benefits which are nationally important,” he says.
Illustrating this point, Gihan says that it is easier for someone to conserve a rainforest if they can make money by leading wildlife tours rather than planting tea by encroaching into the forest.
“You could try to explain that if the rainforest is lost, that farmers hundreds of miles away will not have rain and their crops will fail. But for a person who has a family to support, they need an income, and you need to give them an alternative to clearing the forest,” he says.
Pix courtesy Gehan De Silva Wijeyaratne
Via Daily FT

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Whales, ultimate magic of Sri Lanka tourism

By Dulasha Hettiarachchi 

Project Blueprint, the result of a joint partnership between Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), a leading global marine conservation organisation with SriLankan Airlines, Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB), Jetwing Hotels and Cinnamon Hotels to protect whales and dolphins of Sri Lankan waters, identified whale watching to be the key for increasing tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka at a recent press briefing.  “All our efforts to put Sri Lanka’s wildlife tourism in the map during the last 10 years got a huge boost when the blue whale came into the equation,” said John Keels Hotels Head of Eco Tourism Chithral Jayathilake. “I don’t see any reason why Sri Lanka should not promote whale watching,” said WDC representative Andre Sutton, while sharing his experience of encountering five killer whales in Kalpitiya recently. “People from different parts of the world know about our beaches, our heritage practices and our wildlife but what is needed for them now is something a bit more contemporary. In that perspective I would say we focus on this uniqueness that Sri Lanka has,” said SLTB Chairman Rohantha Athukorala adding to the statement made by Jayathilake. “Now we need to attract a new segment - the youngsters,” said Athukorala talking about positioning whale watching as a niche market in the minds of youngsters. “Showing the magic we have in terms of Blue and Sperm whales to youngsters is a very big opportunity; it’s like showing candy to a kid!” added Jayathilake. Little Adventures facilitator Ashan Senavirathne spoke about the importance of promoting the product as part of domestic tourism. “There’s a lot of potential as people are looking forward to experiencing new things, everybody is a tourist, even the locals.” Moreover, while talking about meticulous planning and marketing of the product, Athukorala mentioned that he would talk with the private sector regarding identification of the right target market within the top seven markets to promote whale watching in areas such as Mirissa, Kalpitiya and Trinco.  “Once that is done I will develop a communication strategy together with the private sector to reach up to them properly, we will develop this product in to a brand,” he reiterated. SLTB Chairman also spoke about the necessity of launching a strong digital marketing campaign to market the attraction. “The future of tourism is digital marketing,” he said.  “What the community sees is a livelihood, once they start looking after their whales, the whales are healthy and happy resulting in happy tourists, repeat visits and recommendations at Trip Advisor,” said WDC Lead Vanessa Williams-Grey speaking to Daily Mirror about establishing whale watching to be community-based, responsible and ethical. 

Via Daily Mirror

Is Sri Lanka still best for Blue Whales?

Can Sri Lanka still claim to have the best encounter rate for Blue Whales on commercial whale watching trips?
In May 2008, I broke the story that Sri Lanka was Best for Blue Whale and publicised an encounter rate of 90%. It was a bold claim to make as it was based on a limited data set of 23 days with whale watching trips in April 2008. On these dates in April 2008, there had been an encounter rate of 100% and there were reasons to explain the presence of whales off the South coast at that time of the year. I had already branded Sri Lanka for leopard safaris and for the elephant gathering and had the experience to know when a wildlife spectacle was a periodic and predictable event, suitable for commercialisation.
As I made clear in that article, I drew on discussions with Dr. Charles Anderson who had based his views on strandings in the Maldives. He believed that an East-West migration of Blue Whales took place between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Anderson had published papers in 1999 and 2005, in which his thoughts on Blue Whale distribution and movements within the Northern Indian Ocean were summarised. Anderson published a paper in 2012, which was an expansion of those ideas, including new sightings data from Sri Lanka. This was a formal, scientific paper with no claim of Sri Lanka being best for Blue Whale, let alone being a good location for Blue Whales. Neither did he publish any encounter rates for whale watching or refer to my shamelessly commercially oriented claims published earlier in 2008.
During the WhaleFest in October 2012 in Brighton, at the Bar of the Hilton, I asked him why it was that he did not even on his website claim that Sri Lanka is Best for Blue Whales. His frank reply was that he tends to think about these things in a different way, i.e. from a scientific rather than a commercial perspective. The next day at a talk I gave at WhaleFest which he attended, I referred to this conversation pointing out that it illustrates the different approach that he as a scientist and I as a developer of commercial wildlife tourism have taken with the same underlying story. Anderson brought out a meticulous scientific paper in 2012 carefully avoiding claims with a commercial agenda. In contrast I rushed out a commercially significant story based on a single season’s data, field experience, commercial intuition and faith in Anderson’s migration hypothesis.
I am always in search of big stories of international significance that will attract journalists and film crews. I saw the Best for Blue Whale story as a way to create livelihoods from wildlife tourism, especially important in a country that had experienced the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 and was still in the middle of fighting a civil war with ruthless separatists. I also saw it as one of the best avenues through which to execute a conservation agenda. My strategy was ‘Conservation through Commerce’. However, I have always believed a good story should be substantiated with data and hands-on field experience. I have continued to collect data from whale watchers and the whale watching boat companies on encounter rates. So although Anderson and I may have differed substantially in how we sculpted the same raw material, we share a common interest in science and grounding our views in science.
It is useful to see if seven years later, the test of time has affirmed my intuition over Sri Lanka being ‘Best for Blue Whale’. The data I have on whale watching trip encounters is not collected to a rigorous scientific protocol. The collection of data has been sporadic, but I have compensated for this by only calculating encounter rates for months where there have been at least 10 sailings. An encounter in this context is seeing one or more Blue Whales on a whale watching trip. It is difficult to gauge how many different individual whales are being seen on a whale watching trip and it is not uncommon for whale watchers to multiple count the same whale that is diving and re-surfacing in different locations. Therefore a simple measure as whether one or more Blue Whales was seen or not works better as an indication of the likelihood of seeing a Blue Whale.
One of the biggest risks with this type of data which is not designed to a strict scientific protocol is that sailings on which whales are seen are more likely to be reported than sailings on which whales are not seen. This is especially true in the first few years when whale watching began and reporting of sightings was irregular. Thus there is risk that the data is biased towards a better encounter rate. Nevertheless, some data is better than mere conjecture and a few days with nil sightings which go unreported will not change the rates significantly.
The accompanying table is from a series of analyses which I have with Georgina Gemmell made available on-line in an intermittently updated deck of PowerPoint slides. Gemmell patiently logged into an Excel spreadsheet, data I had collected over the years. We also drew heavily for more recent years from data provided by Mirissa Water Sports, the pioneering whale watch tour operator in Mirissa. From an ad-hoc dataset of 992 sailings between April 1, 2008 and May 5, 2015, I have calculated the encounter rates for months where there have been 10 or more sailings available in the data. This more than ten sailings criteria avoids spurious results like a month which has had just one sailing and a sighting of a whale producing an encounter rate of 100%. The number of sailings used in the analysis with this restriction reduces only modestly to 942 sailings. This remains a good number of sailings from which to draw valid conclusions, subject to the caveats mentioned before.
The resulting encounter rates are very high, most within the range of 70%-90%, as shown in the table. Note that these are monthly encounter rates indicating the proportion of sailing in which one or more Blue Whales were seen. In several of the peak whale watching months, the encounter rate exceeds 90%. This is best shown in the graph which shows the rates for the best three months in a calendar year. Despite the caveat mentioned earlier that the data from commercial whale watching is not robust as that collected to a scientific protocol, it is clear that the encounter rates are spectacularly high, especially for an animal that was once so hard to see.
Besides the encounter rate of Blue Whales, other interesting patterns emerge. For example on 98% of the 992 sailings from Mirissa, a marine mammal has been encountered. The encounter rate for any marine mammal could be treated as an overall ‘whale watching efficiency rate’. On this basis Mirissa has a staggering 98% efficiency. But this metric needs to be treated with caution. An encounter may be a fleeting glimpse in the distance of a dolphin or it could be one where a boat kept its engine on idle whilst Blue Whales fed beside the boat for an hour. An efficiency ratio does not shed light on the quality of the sighting. Neither does it tell you if the whale watching on that boat and that of surrounding boats was handled in a responsible way to contribute to an ethical and pleasurable experience.
An interesting result is in that there is no unambiguous trend in the encounter rates decreasing despite the surge in the number of whale watching boats. Given the accounts in the media of whale watching boats harassing the whales, a reduction in encounter rates may be expected. But we must be cautious in interpreting the data as the quality of the encounters could be lowered if whales are being harassed by boats. Whales could become harder to locate for an individual boat, but the overall encounter rate may remain high as there are more boats out there increasing the search effort and communicating by mobile phone to other boats when they find one. In 2008 and 2009, there were days when I was the only person out whale watching and encounter rates were entirely a measure of one boat’s effort. Nowadays, it is a collective effort.
On December 27,2014, a few months shy of seven years from April 1, 2008 when I first encountered both Blue and Sperm Whales on a sailing from Mirissa, I was out at sea again with Mirissa Water Sports. I observed how several boats had lined up neatly in a row on one side of two feeding Blue Whales. The whales had fed next to the boats for almost an hour. The boats were lined up in a text book style manner of responsible whale watching. I suspect this was partly accidental in that the line of approach to the whales resulted in the boats lining up rather than encircling them which would have driven them away.
This good behaviour may also have been partly a result of several initiatives to both regulate and encourage responsible and ethical conduct when whale watching. One of the notable initiatives has been supported by Sri Lankan (the airline) in partnership with the UK based conservation charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Sri Lanka has a great tourism product in its Blue Whales but in terms of its overall offering, the responsible conduct of whale watching boats will be a defining factor in the future.
For a wildlife tourism product to be successful, it must satisfy the “Three Es”.
These are a reliable Encounter Zone, Encounter Season and very importantly a good Encounter Rate. The Blue Whales, the leopards and the Elephant Gathering all satisfy the “Three Es” very well. In this article I focussed on the data that continues to support Sri Lanka’s claim to be a top whale watching destination, on the back of a good encounter rate for Blue Whales. But from the perspective of gaining column inches of international press coverage, a species need not satisfy the “Three Es” in the way required for commercial success.
A case in point is the yet mysterious Orcas that visit Sri Lanka. They are very rare, with usually just one or two records a year; even this being a recent phenomenon based on the presence of whale watching boats. The Orca Project Sri Lanka (OPSL) administered by Gemmell has, using a Citizen Science photo identification study identified 13 individual Orcas. A pair of them (OM001 and OK008) has been recorded from Mirissa, Trincomalee and Kalpitiya. Using information provided by whale watchers, Gemmell and others have already had a paper accepted for publication in Aquatic Mammals, a leading peer reviewed journal. The Facebook page has gained a number of followers and draws attention to cetacean research in Sri Lanka. Therefore even charismatic animals with low encounter rates can provide a country with international publicity.
For wildlife tourism, the marine mammal tourism works well with the island’s terrestrial offerings which have astonishing species richness per unit area basis, compared with other much larger tropical islands. For more details on this, my article on why Sri Lanka is super-rich for wildlife can be easily retrieved from the web. Sri Lanka also has the largest annually recurring gathering of wild elephants and is outstanding for leopard. What more can you give an island that is super-rich for wildlife?