Monday, November 30, 2015

A Gateway to a Hundred Worlds – Jetwing Kaduruketha Opens in December 2015

Known as the heart of Sri Lankan hospitality, Jetwing Hotels is set to launch Jetwing Kaduruketha – the first luxury agro-tourism project in the country- in December 2015.


Located in Wellawaya, a prominent waystation both into the country and to the East coast, the resort features 25 dwellings overlooking fields of paddy and mountains.
Breeze rustles through the fields of paddy – acres and acres of farmers’ hard work that paint the town of Wellawaya in a thousand shades of green and gold. Fed by the waters of the Kirindi Oya, the harvest of the area is the main source of income for the families that tend the abundant fields. Wellawaya’s charm is in its simplicity and the authenticity of the experience it gives to a visitor. From the roadside shops that pour up a steaming cup of tea and serve a heaping plate of rice and curry to the smiles of the farmers even as they labour on their precious lands; the heart and soul of this town is wonderfully Sri Lankan.
An agricultural town in the heart of Sri Lanka’s Uva province, Wellawaya is both a step into traditional living as well as a gateway to some of the country’s most magical places. With its location at the foot of the Namunukula mountain range, Wellawaya is a central point for visits to the hill country, the beaches of the east coast and the wild plains of the Deep South. A drive to the misty mountains of Ella, through the sprawling tea estates of Haputale and Bandarawela, brings you to a haven for the adventure tourist. Its hikes and mountain trails wind through cloud forests and plains of unparalleled beauty. Eastward are the pristine beaches of Pottuvil, where the waters are blue against shores of white and life works in slow motion in the laidback surfing town of Arugam Bay. Head south and wildlife enthusiasts are spoiled for choice with the Yala, Kumana and Lunugamvehera parks that boast a proud display of the island’s flora and fauna.
Ever true to Jetwing’s commitment to sustainable tourism, Jetwing Kaduruketha takes its place in the family as the first major agro-tourism project in the country. Inspired by the design of a traditional farming village, the wide open spaces of the hotel open to views of the paddy fields heavy with their crop of the season along with the spectacular mountain range in the horizon. Designed by Sunela Jayawardena, the renowned environmental architect responsible for Jetwing Vil Uyana, the 25 dwellings at Jetwing Kaduruketha will be furnished with natural materials such as wood and bamboo, maximizing natural ventilation and cooling thus eliminating the need for environmentally damaging air-conditioning. In addition, over 50 acres of the property has been devoted to the cultivation and harvest of paddy by local farmers – providing the community with a stake in the agro-resort itself.
“The ancient kings and queens of Sri Lanka prized agriculture above all else, considering it the lifeblood of our land” said Hiran Cooray, Chairman of Jetwing. “At Jetwing Kaduruketha, we offer our visitors experiences truly like no other, with Wellawaya being the perfect base to venture on exciting adventures to undiscovered destinations such as Buduruwagela, camping in Poonagala, village walks, the Madunagala Hot Springs, along with Ella, Lipton Seat, the Yala National Park, etc. Jetwing Kaduruketha will launch in December 2015, and we look forward to the resort being truly one of a kind in South Asia”.
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 Programme; with energy efficiency, community upliftment, and education of earth saving measures to schoolchildren being a few tenets of the Programme.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Great Whale Gatherings - Part 4

Part 4: The Sperm Whale Super-pods

















Sperm Whale © Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

In this last part of this multi-part article, I continue with the story of Sperm Whales and in particular on the super-pods recorded off Sri Lanka.
The Sperm Whale is the great whale, which is typically a social animal and famed for large concentrations in the whale literature from the 19th to 21st centuries. It is the ‘Elephant of the Sea’; females and immature males form breeding schools in the tropics and live in social units. However, in my article in the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) I explained that the references in many popular books on whales, of thousands of Sperm Whales being seen together suggested as being normal is incorrect. This is an erroneous interpretation of Hal Whitehead’s book where he estimates that approximately 750 Sperm Whales may be found in a concentration spanning 300km and in discussing the impact of modelling assumptions states ‘.....while one 500km across would have about 22,000'. I suspect the discussion on modelling and the impact of assumptions on statistical measures have resulted in other writers misinterpreting that it is normal to see Sperm Whales in the thousands. The mean pod sizes listed in Whitehead’s book range from 18 to 29.8. In conversation with him and other scientists and professionals in whale watching, I clarified that a pod of over 40 Sperm Whales is something special. Since then, inspired by my encounters with large pods of Sperm Whales in Mirissa, Kalpitiya and Trincomalee, I have been seeking data from whale watching guides and boat operators in Sri Lanka for continuing evidence of this claim.
In addition to the annual super-pods, the key evidence so far of large gatherings off Sri Lanka is a Sperm Whale gathering recorded in March 2012 and another recorded on 29th September 2014. In 2012, a super-pod was observed between 8th March and 27th March, which had more than 40 individuals together during this period. Nilantha Kodithuwakku and Buddika (‘Daya’) Dhayarathne, two naturalists of Cinnamon Nature Trails who were resident at Chaaya Blue, a John Keells Hotel, took clients out to view and or dive with the whales. Client estimates varied, from Amos Nachoum estimating around 60-80 to Andrea Steffen, who has studied Sperm Whales off Dominica, estimating over a hundred. I had extensive face-to-face discussions with Nilantha and Daya on two separate visits to Sri Lanka to gain clarity on the March 2012 super-pod. They noted that on 4 days from 20th March to 23rd March 2012, the numbers on the ocean surface in the field of view peaked at approximately 200 to 250. This is a phenomenal concentration or gathering, as this was a surface count based on what they thought they could see around them.
Over two years later, on 29th September 2014, Daya encountered the largest aggregation of Sperm Whales he had ever seen with an estimate of over 300 Sperm Whales. I discussed this in detail with him by phone. He had travelled about 8km offshore from Trincomalee and then travelled around 13km towards Pigeon Island. He encountered 12-13 pods of Sperm Whales each containing 20-30 on the surface. Chitral Jayatilake who leads the team of Cinnamon Nature Trails naturalists arranged to fly out the next day to photograph this large gathering of Sperm Whales. Daya headed out to sea to locate the whales and relay the GPS coordinates, but the Sperm Whales were gone, although Daya did see an estimated eight Blue Whales on that day. Between March 2014 and September 2014, Daya had regularly encountered small pods of Sperm Whales at sea, up to the date of the large gathering referred to above. He speculates that the whales had gathered before moving out of the area together and he did not see them until March 2015.
The Sperm Whale super-pod data I have shows that super-pods occur regularly. These are summarised by month and location and by year and location in the accompanying tables. But note that the number of days seen is not the same as individual super-pods. The March 2012 super-pod in Trincomalee was seen on 20 days and may have comprised of many of the same whales although it is possible that in these gatherings there could be turnover of the specific individuals present from one day to another [1, 2, 3].
The most significant super-pods besides the two already mentioned include the following: between 16th to 18th April 2013 in Kalpitiya a super-pod seen by various observers with some estimates over 100 but conservatively estimated at 70, on 9th March 2013 a super-pod estimated between 150 to 200 by various observers off Mirissa, on 12th March 2013 an un-confirmed report by fishermen (relayed by Ashan Seneviratne) of a super-pod of 200 in Kalpitiya (the count needs to be treated with caution; but may have been large and is noteworthy given the sighting in Mirissa a few days earlier), on 22nd March 2013 a super-pod of 100 off Mirissa relayed by Tony Wu who had an underwater image which showed 23 Sperm Whales in one frame, on 15th March 2014 a super-pod of 75 seen by Dr. Charles Anderson in Trincomalee, on 11th May 2014 a super-pod of 70 seen by Nilantha Kodithuwakku (conveyed by Georgina Gemmell) off Trincomalee, and on 24th March 2015 a super-pod with a surface count of 110 plus stragglers seen off Kalpitiya by a team including personnel from Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). The last observation was released in social media as possibly the largest gathering of Sperm Whales seen in living memory and the count was estimated at between 350-500 (but this included whales estimated at being present under water). Based on the surface count relayed to me by email, this observation was more likely to have been on par with the super-pod of 16th -18th April 2013 in Kalpitiya. On the basis of comparable surface counts, it is not the largest seen off Sri Lanka or in living memory.
The significance of these large Sperm Whale super-pods can be seen in context in the following comments I received in response to my article in the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) on 5th August 2012. Tony Wu, an award winning underwater photographer wrote to me on 8th August 2012. “I have seen groups of up to 20 or so animals in Japanese waters, but never up to 40-50 as you report. I talked with my friends who pioneered the Sperm Whale watching industry in Ogasawara, Japan, where I photographed the Sperm Whales eating giant squid. They have been observing Sperm Whales since the mid-90s in that area, and are probably the most experienced Sperm Whale people in Japan. They confirmed that they have only seen up to around 20 animals in a given group....’. Michael Fishbach (Great Whale Conservancy) wrote on 5th August 2012. “I think I can clarify what you wrote about the Sea of Cortez and Sperm Whales. During my Blue Whale work there over the past 18 years the biggest pod of Sperm Whales I have encountered is an estimated 70. Amazing and unforgettable are two words I can associate with that encounter. The Azores is another location famed for its Sperm Whales. In a paper by Sara Magalhaes and others published in 2002 in the journal ‘Aquatic Mammals’ on reactions of Sperm Whales to whale watching vessels, they published details of pod sizes observed. In 69 land-based sightings, group size averaged 3.1 with the maximum being five. On 40 sightings in boat-based observations, the mean group size was again 3.1 with a maximum of seven. Compare this with Sri Lanka where super-pods are annually encountered which comprise of more than 40 whales.
The naturalists who take people whale watching off Sri Lanka are often pre-occupied with handling clients and it is possible that the numbers in super-pods are under-counted, or that when clients spend time with one pod of Sperm Whales, other pods in the close vicinity may be missed unlike in a scientific survey using a line transect method. But the two observations in March 2012 and in September 2014, together with the other observations, underline how important the waters off Sri Lanka are for large concentrations of these great whales. The large numbers present off Sri Lanka’s waters are probably a result of the nutrient flows arising from upwellings from the two monsoons, nutrient flow from the Indian mainland and the 103 river systems in Sri Lanka. In February 2012, a team from the Ceylon Bird Club during an annual waterfowl census estimated over a million shorebirds from a single point of view in Mannar. This is probably the largest flock of migrant shorebirds counted from a single viewpoint. The nutrient dynamics which support large numbers of wintering migrants are probably the same which support the presence of Blue and Sperm Whales in Sri Lankan coastal waters.
An analysis of 19th century whaling logbooks by Charles Townsend covering 1,665 voyages published in Zoologica, the journal of the Zoological Society of New York was accompanied by four charts, which showed the locations of where whales were hunted. This clearly shows that the New England whalers took Sperm Whales off Sri Lanka but not to the degree elsewhere. It is also possible that the Sperm Whale aggregations off Sri Lanka escaped the brunt of the 20th century whaling. However, the Northern Indian Ocean Blue Whales were subject to intense illegal Soviet whaling. Whether it was less whaling pressure or nutrient dynamics, or both, Sri Lanka is now a custodian of an important world heritage of great whale aggregations.
Conclusion
Let me conclude this multi-part article. Although, in popular parlance there are references to large aggregations of Right Whales, Minke Whales, Humpback Whales and Bowhead Whales they do not seem to be occurring frequently enough, predictably enough and in large enough numbers to be a visual spectacle for it to be an wildlife tourism event. In terms of visual effect, a super-pod of Sperm Whales off Sri Lanka may well carry the biggest visual impact. However, this is not predictable enough to become a commercially viable wildlife event. The large aggregations of Grey Whales are predictable in timing of year and location and the tourism infrastructure is in place. The large aggregation appears to be spread out so that tourists are not confronted with the visual spectacle of a large gathering of large animals as with the Elephant Gathering in Sri Lanka where over 100 elephants are frequently in the field of view from a single point. Nevertheless, it seems that the Grey Whales of Laguna San Ignacio and Laguna Ojo de Liebre, best meet the description of the greatest gathering of great whales. In 2011, the magazine Wild Travel published a special issue on the ‘100 natural wonders that everyone should see in their lifetime’. The Grey Whale gathering in the nursery lagoons was missing. I suspect because there is no branding that there is no realisation that besides the amazing intimacy of being able to touch Grey Whales, in these lagoons are also the Greatest Gathering of Great Whales, which are annually recurrent and commercially viable for tourism. I would anticipate that for ‘Conservation through Commerce’ to work, this tagline will be adopted by those seeking to take tourists out there as well as those who need to raise grants for science and conservation.
Acknowledgements
A number of individuals have assisted in many ways. None of them necessarily share the views I have made in this article and any mistakes or errors of opinion remain mine. Mark Carwardine was very helpful in challenging my first draft and encouraging me to extend the scope of the article. Robert Pitman, Hal Whitehead, Charles Anderson and Georgina Gemmell commented on early drafts. Tara Wikramanayake made numerous copy edits. A number of individuals answered questions, provided information, made helpful introductions or shared and gave useful points to ponder. These include Robert Pitman, William Perrin, Trevor Branch, Doug Butterworth, Mark Bravington, Paul Ensor, Paula Olson, Elke Burkhardt, Koji Matusoka and Matt Curnock. Lauren Horncastle tidied citations for me. Gabriel Jamie scanned the original letter by W.D. Boyer and the response to it from the University of Cambridge library. Mark Bravington shared a data summary from the IWC cruises which helped me to better articulate a request to the IWC. Kate Wilson and Marion Hughes provided data from the IWC database. Vanessa Williams-Grey emailed me soon after her field observation of the Sperm Whale super-pod sighting in April 2015 and in the subsequent dialogue Hal Whitehead drew attention to Boyer’s published account. Many people have over the years shared their data with me and were individually acknowledged in my previous article on Sperm Whale super-pods. I owe special thanks to Buddika (‘Daya’) Dhayarathne and Nilantha Kodituwakku who have shared their sightings, especially from Trincomalee, with me. My thanks also Joshua Barton, Matt Curnock and Chris Breen who provided images and additional information.
Papers consulted in the multi-part article Greatest Gatherings of Great Whales
In this multi-part article in Wall Street International, I have sought to answer the question of where the greatest great whale gatherings have occurred or continue to occur. I consulted a number of people and read a number of scientific papers. The people who have helped me in various ways are mentioned in the acknowledgements. This multi-part series article will be a useful reference to media, whale watchers and others with an interest in marine biology. I have therefore included this supplementary bibliography which includes the citations of the papers I consulted. Only papers which are relevant in the context of information on large, great whale aggregations are listed here. To make it easier for a non-scientific audience, the citations are grouped by type of whale rather than in the usual alphabetical manner in a formal publication.
Bowhead Whales
(1). Born, E. W. and Heide-Jørgensen, M. P. (1983). Observations of the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) in central West Greenland in March-May 1982. Rep. Int. Whal. Comm. 33, pp 545-547.
(2). Hansen, R.G., Heide-Jørgensen, M. P. and Laidre, K. L. (2012). Recent abundance of bowhead whales in Isabella Bay, Canada. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management. 12 (3), pp 317-319.
(3). Heide-Jørgensen, M. P., Laidre, K. L., Wiig, Ø., Postma, L., Dueck, L. and Bachmann, L. (2010). Large-scale sexual segregation of bowhead whales. Endangered Species Research, 13, pp 73-78.
(4). Heide-Jørgensen, M. P., Laidre, K. L., Borchers, D., Samarra, F. and Stern H. (2007). Increasing abundance of bowhead whales in West Greenland. Biology Letters, 3, pp 577-580.
(5). Landino, S. W., Treacy, S. D., Zerwick, S. A. and Dunlap, J. B. (1994). A Large Aggregation of Bowhead Whales (Balaena mysticetus) Feeding near Point Barrow, Alaska, in Late October 1992. Arctic, 47 (3), pp 232-235.
(6). Moore, S. E., George, J. C., Coyle, K. O. and Weingartner, T. J. (1995). Bowhead Whales along the Chukotka Coast in Autumn. Arctic, 48 (2), pp 155-160.
(7). Reeves, R. R. and Heide-Jørgensen, M. P. (1996). Recent status of bowhead whales, Balaena mysticetus, in the wintering grounds off West Greenland. Polar Research 15 (2), pp 115-125.
Fin Whales
(8). Acevedo, J., O’Grady, M. and Wallis, B. (2012). Sighting of the fin whale in the Eastern Subtropical South Pacific: Potential breeding ground? Revista de Biología Marina y Oceanografía 2012, 47, pp 559-563.
(9). Burkhardt, E. and Lanfredi, C. (2012). Fall feeding aggregations of fin whales off Elephant Island (Antarctica). IWC SC paper SC/64/SH9 (unpublished).
Gray Whales
(10). Swartz, S.L., Urbán R., J., Gómez-Gallardo U., A., Martínez, S., Robles M, J.I., López, I.G. & Rojas-Bracho, L. (2013). Numbers of Gray Whales (Eschrichtius Robustus) utilizing Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico during The Winter Breeding Seasons: 2007-2013. Rep. Intl. Whaling Commission, Scientific Committee SC/65a/BRG06.
Humpback Whales
(11). Anonymous. (2010). Advice relevant to the identification of critical habitats for north pacific humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). DFO Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat Science Response, 2009/016. Fisheries and Oceans Canada Science.
(12). Ashe, E., Wray, J., Picard, C. R. and Williams, R. (2013). Abundance and survival of Pacific humpback whales in a proposed critical habitat area. PLoS ONE 8(9): e75228.
(13). Johnston, D. W., Friedlaender, A. S., Read, A. J. and Nowacek, D. P. (2012). Initial density estimates of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae in the inshore waters of the western Antarctic Peninsula during the late autumn. Endangered Species Research, 18, pp 63-71.
(14). Nowacek, D. P., Friedlaender, A. S., Halpin, P. N., Hazen, E. L., Johnston, D. W., Read, A. J., Espinasse, B., Zhou, M. and Zhu, Y. (2011). Super-Aggregations of Krill and Humpback Whales in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. PLoS ONE 6: e19173 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019173
(15). Waite J. M., Dahlheim, M., Hobbs, R. and Mizroch, S. (1999). Evidence of a feeding aggregation of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) around Kodiak Island, Alaska. Marine Mammal Science 15 (1), pp 210–220.
(16). Witteveen, B. H., Wynne, K. M. and Quinn II, T. J. (2007). A Feeding Aggregation of Humpback Whales Megaptera novaeangliae near Kodiak Island, Alaska: Historical and Current Abundance Estimation. Alaska Fishery Research Bulletin, 12 (2).
(17). Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (2013). Recovery Strategy for the North Pacific Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa. x +pp 67.
Minke Whales
(18). Branch, T. A. (2006). Abundance estimates for Antarctic minke whales from three completed circumpolar sets of surveys, 1978/79 to 2003/04. IWC SC paper SC/58/IA18 (unpublished).
(19). Branch, T. A. (2014). Southern Hemisphere minke whales: standardised abundance estimates from the 1978/79 to 1997/98 IDCR/SOWER surveys. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, 01/2001 (3), pp 143-174.
(20). Hirohisa, K., Hidehiro, K., Fujio, K. and Yoshihiro, F. (1991). Detection of heterogeneity and estimation of population characteristics from the field survey data: 1987/88 Japanese feasibility study of the southern hemisphere Minke whales. Annals of the Institute of Statistical Mathematics September 1991, 43 (3), pp 435-453.
(21). Kasamatsu, F., Ensor, P. and Joyce, G. G. (1998) Clustering and aggregations of minke whaIes in the Antarctic feeding grounds. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 168, pp 1-11.
(22). Kasamatsu, F., Nishiwaki, S. and Ishikawa, H. (1995). Breeding areas and southbound migrations of southern minke whales Balaenoptera acutorostrata. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 119, pp 1-10.
(23). Kelly, N., Peel, D. and Bravington, M. V. (2014). Distribution and abundance of Antarctic minke whales in sea ice regions of East Antarctica: a summary of results. IWC SC paper SC/65b/IA15 (unpublished).
(24). Matsuoka, K., Ensor, P., Hakamada, T., Shimada, H., Nishiwaki, S., Kasamatsu, F. and Kato, H. (2003). Overview of minke whale sightings surveys conducted on IWC/IDCR and SOWER Antarctic cruise from 1978/79 to 2000/01. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, 5 (2), pp 173-201.
(25). Murase, H., Kitakado, T., Matsuoka, K., Nishiwaki, S. and Naganobu, M. (2007). Exploration of GAM based abundance estimation method of Antarctic minke whales to take into account environmental effects: A case study in the Ross Sea. IWC SC paper SC/59/IA12 (unpublished), pp 13.
(26). Shimada, H. and Kato, A. (2005). Preliminary report on a sighting survey of Antarctic minke whale within ice field conducted by the Ice Breaker, Shirase in 2004/2005. IWC SC paper SC/57/IA7 (unpublished), pp 14.
Dwarf Minke Whales
(27). Birtles, A., Valentine, P., Curnock, M., Mangott, A., Sobtzick, S. & Marsh, H. (2014). Report to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on the Dwarf Minke Whale Tourism Monitoring Program (2003­2008). Research Publication No. 112. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
(28). Sobtzick, S. (2010). Dwarf minke whales in the northern Great Barrier Reef and implications for the sustainable management of the swim-with whales industry. PhD thesis, James Cook University.
Right Whales
(29). Failla, M., Vermeulen, E., Carabajal, M., Arruda, J., Godoy, H., Lapa, A., Mora, G., Urrutia, C., Balbiano, A. and Cammareri, A. (2008). Historical records of southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) of the province Río Negro, North Patagonia, Argentina (1991-2008). IWC SC paper SC/60/BRG1 (unpublished).
Multi-Species
(30). Anonymous. (2012). Known Biologically Important Areas for Cetaceans Chukchi Sea and Alaskan Beaufort Sea. Represents work done by Janet Clarke of Science Applications International Corporation, with review and revisions contributed by the Cetacean Mapping Working Group members.
(31). Branch, T. A. and Butterworth, D. S. (2014). Estimates of abundance south of 60°S for cetacean species sighted frequently on the 1978/79 to 1997/98 IWC/IDCR-SOWER sighting surveys. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, 3 (3), pp 251-270.
(32). Clarke, R. (1962). Whale observation and whale marking off the coast of Chile in 1958 and from Ecuador towards and beyond the Galapagos Islands in 1959. Norsk Hvalfangst-tid. 51 (7), pp 265-287.
(33). Ensor, P., Komiya, H., Beasley, I., Fukutome, K., Olson, P. and Tsuda, Y. (2007). 2006–2007 International Whaling Commission-Southern Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research (IWC-SOWER) cruise. IWC SC paper SC/59/IA1 (unpublished).
(34). Ensor, P., Minami, K., Morse, L., Olson, P. and Sekiguchi, K. (2008). 2007-2008 International Whaling Commission-Southern Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research (IWC-SOWER) cruise. IWC SC paper SC/60/IA1 (unpublished).
(35). Matsuoka, K., Hakamada, T., Kiwada, H., Murase, H. and Nishiwaki, S. (2005). Abundance Increases of Large Baleen Whales in the Antarctic based on the Sighting Survey during Japanese Whale Research Program (JARPA). Global Environmental Research 9 (2), pp 105-115.
(36). Matsuoka, K., Watanabe, T., Ichii, T., Shimada, H. and Nishiwaki, S. (2003). Large whale distributions (South of 60°S, 35°E-130°E)in relation to the southern boundary of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. eds Huiskes, A.H.L., Gieskes, W.W.C., Rozema, J., Schorno, R.M.L., van der Vies, S.M. and Wolff, W.J. Antarctic Biology in a Global Context. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden 3, pp 26-30.
(37). Nishiwaki, S., Ogawa, T., Matsuoka, K., Mogoe, T., Kiwada, H., Konishi, K., Kanda, N., Yoshida, T., Wada, A., Mori, M., Osawa, T., Kumagai, S., Oshima, T., Kimura, K., Yoshimura, I., Sasaki, T., Aki, M., Matsushita, Y., Ito, H., Sudo, S. and Nakamura, G. (2007). Cruise report of the second phase of the Japanese Whale Research Program under special permit in the Antarctic (JARPA/JARPAII) in 2006/2007 –feasibility study- IWC SC paper SC/63/O4 (unpublished).
(38). Scheidat, M., Friedlaender, A., Kock, K.H., Lehnert, L., Boebel, O., Roberts, J. and Williams, R. (2011). Cetacean surveys in the Southern Ocean using icebreaker-supported helicopters. Polar Biology 34, pp 1513–1522.

Daily Sightings for Whales & Dolphin Watching (2015 - 2016 Season)

Daily Sightings for Whales & Dolphin Watching (2015 - 2016 Season)

DateMorning / EveningType of Whales#Dolphin#
2015.07.24AMBryde's Whale1Spinner Dolphins100
2015.08.01AMKiller Whales10
2015.08.02AMBlue Whale1
2015.08.03AMBlue Whale1
2015.08.06AMBlue Whale1
2015.08.13AMKiller Whales4
Blue Whale1
2015.08.18AMBlue Whale3Spinner Dolphins5
2015.08.20AMBlue Whale3
2015.09.07AMBlue Whale1Spinner Dolphins200
Bryde's Whale1
2015.10.01AMSpinner Dolphins300
2015.10.02AMSpinner Dolphins5
2015.10.06AMSpinner Dolphins
2015.10.08AMSperm Whales10Spinner Dolphins20+
2015.10.10AMBryde's Whales2
2015.10.22AMBlue Whale1Spinner Dolphins10
2015.10.27AMBryde's Whales1Spinner Dolphins5
2015.10.28AMKiller Whales5
2015.10.30AMBlue Whale1Spinner Dolphins10
2015.11.01AMBlue Whale1Spinner Dolphins100
2015.11.02AMBlue Whale1Spinner Dolphins50
2015.11.03AMSpinner Dolphins200
Bottlenose Dolphins100
2015.11.04AMSpinner Dolphins200
Risso's Dolphins50
2015.11.05AMFalse Killer Whales100Spinner Dolphins100
Bottlenose Dolphins100
2015.11.06AMBryde's Whale1Bottlenose Dolphins50
2015.11.08AMBlue Whale1
2015.11.09AMBryde's Whale1
2015.11.10AMBryde's Whale1Bottlenose Dolphins10
2015.11.11AMBryde's Whale2Spinner Dolphins30
2015.11.12AMBlue Whale1
2015.11.14AMBryde's Whale1Spinner Dolphins60
2015.11.15AM----
2015.11.16AMBryde's Whale2--
2015.11.17AMBryde's Whale2
2015.11.18AMBlue Whale2
Bryde's Whale5
2015.11.19AMBryde's Whale1
Blue Whale1
2015.11.20AMBryde's Whale2
2015.11.21AMBryde's Whale4
Blue Whale1

2015.11.22AMBryde's Whale2
2015.11.23AMBlue Whale1Spinner Dolphins20
Bryde's Whale1
Data courtesy of Mirissa Water Sports (PVT) Ltd.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Great Whale Gatherings - Part 3

Part 3: The Sperm Whale, the only Great Whale of the Toothed Whales









In the first section of this multi-part article, I posed the question of where the greatest gatherings of great whales occur and discussed various candidates amongst the baleen whales. Familiar whales such as the Blue Whale which feed by filtering water through baleen plates in their mouth are known as baleen whales. In this section of the article, I explore the subject of large gatherings which are reported for the Sperm Whale, the only toothed whale large enough to be classified amongst the great whales. In the first section of this article, I concluded that the greatest gatherings of great whales must be that of the Grey Whales gathering in breeding lagoons in North America. However, I also noted that as the whales are spread out, in terms of a visual spectacle, a super-pod of Sperm Whales, may be more spectacular. Sperm Whale are truly social animals, the elephants of the sea. However, encountering a super-pod is a matter of chance and in this second section of this article, I pick up their story.

Sperm Whales

In the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) on 5th August 2012 I published the claim that Sri Lanka offers the best chance of seeing a super-pod (defined as more than 40 individuals) of Sperm Whales on a commercial whale watch. It leads to the bigger and more important claim that one of the biggest, recurrent, contemporary gatherings of great whales occurs off Sri Lanka. The large gathering of Sperm Whales off Sri Lanka has not been recorded annually. But super-pods numbering over 40 individuals have just about been recorded each year since 2009. The large gatherings of over 250 Sperm Whales may not occur each year, or it may only last a few days each year and may be missed by the absence of observers. It will be hard to verify its annual occurrence unless more seasoned and attuned observers are out in the water or there is programme of aerial surveillance. I say ‘attuned’ because most local naturalists had failed to recognise the international significance of these super-pods and some records may have been ‘lost’ if it were not for conversation with me. Although large super-pods exceeding 100 Sperm Whales have been recorded in Mirissa in the South and Kalpitiya in the North-west, so far the large gatherings of over 250 Sperm Whales in a concentrated area have only been observed in Trincomalee in the Northeast of the island. The counts I refer to are only on surface counts as is the norm when reporting counts of whales.
These gatherings are probably the greatest ever known for Sperm Whales except for two previous observations published in 1839 and in 1946. In a letter to the editor of Natural History (55:96), W.D. Boyer, referred to an observation on 28th August 1945 off Peru at approximately 6 degrees South and 82 degrees West, near the Galapagos. This letter is also quoted in the prologue of Hal Whitehead’s book ‘Sperm Whales: Social Evolution in the Ocean’. It states ‘....approximately 400 to 600 whales were to be seen at one time from the centre of the school and it can be safely assumed that the entire school consisted of well over 1,000 whales.’ The February 1946 issue of Natural
History also carried a comment to Boyer’s letter by George G. Goodwin of the American Museum’s Department of Mammals. Excerpts from his comments include ‘.... In recent years 30 or 40 of them would be considered an exceptionally large school of them…’ and ‘ .... Thomas Beale stated in his Natural History of the Sperm Whale (1839) that he had one school of as many as five hundred or six hundred. The log books of whaling ships, so as far as I can learn, give no such stupendous figure.’ Unfortunately, Beale provides no details in Chapter VI on ‘Herding, and other particulars, of the Sperm Whale’, in his book merely stating that ‘I have seen in one school as many as five or six hundred’. R. A. J. W. Lever writing in the South Pacific Bulletin in 1954 in his article ‘Whales and Whaling in the Western Pacific’ states that ‘In the early whaling days, schools or ‘pods’ numbered up to 100, but extensive hunting in which nursing mothers and young were not spared, so reduced this figure to about 15’.
Hal Whitehead and his team of researchers have been studying whales in the Eastern Pacific near the Galapagos. There are no contemporary accounts of such large gatherings of Sperm Whales. In a conversation I had with Hal Whitehead in London on 29th August 2013, he told me that his research team has seen pods of Sperm Whales of 50-100. In an email to me on 15th April 2015, he commented ‘I would note that there is a very good reason why there have not been enormous groups seen in the eastern tropical Pacific since Boyer's day. His observation was just before massive and largely unregulated whaling in the region (ca. 1948-1982’).
Continues the 12 th of November...




Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
05 November, 2015


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Happy Diwali!!


10 safari jeeps banned at Yala

Ten safari jeeps have been banned from entering Yala National Park after they were found to have caused harassment to wild animals. 
Wildlife minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera has taken this decision. 
The most recent incident has been the death of a leopard after being run over by a jeep.
Also, he has ordered officials to impose speed limits inside the national park.
The minister has decided to recruit trained guides for national parks.


Thirty days left to save Pygmy blue whales from risk of extinction

Pygmy blue whales are most commonly spotted along Sri Lanka’s southern coast
Friend of the Sea urges Sri Lanka and the World Shipping Council to shift lanes 15 nautical miles south to stop deadly whales strikes
Each year, the estimated 300 whales feeding near the Southern coast of Sri Lanka are hit over 1.000 times by up to 300 meters long carrier vessels. 50 of these strikes are likely to be lethal for the rare Pygmy blue whales. 2016 could be the ‘year of no return’ for the whales in the area, unless the Sri Lankan authorities, in collaboration with the World Shipping Council agree to submit, before the 27th of November deadline, a proposal to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to shift the current lanes 15 Nautical Miles South.  Proposals submitted after this deadline would be enforced only 24 months later.
Friend of the Sea has urged the Sri Lankan Government, the World Shipping Council and the top ten shipping companies (NYK, Maersk, Evergreen Marine Corporation, CMA-CGM, MSC, Hapag-Lloyd, APL, Cosco, Hanjin, and CSCL) to submit the proposal to IMO to shift the lanes 15 nautical miles South. The international NGO has offered its help to coordinate a meeting between the parties in the next few weeks.
“The shipping industry has greatly reduced its environmental impact over the years,” explains Paolo Bray, Founder and Director of Friend of the Sea. “It is now time to deal with its silent impact on whales which are being decimated by ship strikes. Shifting the lanes 15 nautical miles South would reduce whales’ strikes by over 90 percent. The artisanal fisheries and the whale watching industry, which is driving tourism in the area, would also benefit. Coastal pollution would be reduced. Ships would in the end have to add only an average five miles to their trips. By meeting the November 27 deadline, Sri Lanka could become an example to be followed globally in environmental protection and whales’ conservation.”
It was previously believed that blue whales fed exclusively in polar regions, where waters are rich with nutrients and dense with krill. But in 2003 marine biologist Asha de Vos spotted six feeding blue whales. An already dwindling population was hammered by illegal Soviet whaling in the 1960s. Pygmy blue whales are most commonly spotted along Sri Lanka’s southern coast. Ship traffic between Africa, the Middle East and Asia all converges here. Ship strikes have escalated since Hambantota harbor was built, observes marine biologists.
According to Asha de Vos the local species possess some distinct features that set them apart from their Antarctic cousins. For example they are 15 feet smaller than Antarctic blue whales and they use a unique dialect to communicate with each other. In fact it was this call signature that allowed scientists to confirm that Sri Lanka’s blue whales don’t migrate to Antarctica, like other populations. There are behavioral differences as well. For example, they “fluke up,” or lift their tails high in the air before diving, more often than blue whales in other populations.
Blue-whale