Sri Lanka first became the focus of international cetalogical attention in the early 1980s, after three respected cetacean researchers – Hal Whitehead, Jonathan Gordon and Roger Payne – documented the unusual frequency of great whale sightings off its coasts.
Soon, whale watching tours were being offered to a growing number of enthusiastic tourists and researchers. The National Aquatic resources Agency (NARA) which had a Research Centre (CRIOMM) situated in Clappenburg Bay, Trincomalee pioneered commercial whale watching operations with Walkers Tours Ltd. as the travel agent. See the brochure: Greatest Show on Earth: Whales of Trincomalee Canyon
Another tour operator of particular significance was the Oceanic Society, a us-based conservation group, which conducted whale-watching tours out of Trincomalee in March 1985 and off the south coast of Sri Lanka in March 1986. Numerous cetacean sightings were recorded on these tours: species observed included blue whales, Bryde’s whale, Risso’s dolphin, bottlenose dolphins and spinner dolphins. Professionally managed and conducted by experts, the Oceanic Society tours proved conclusively that marine mammal watching in Sri Lankan waters was a viable commercial proposition. Unfortunately, the long period of ethnic and civil conflict into which the country entered at about the same time brought commercial whale-watching – as well as most other tourism-related activity – to a halt.