Blue whale Trincomalee

Whale and Dolphin Watching Centre

Planning a Whale & Dolphin Watching Trip

 

Read more by selecting a commercial whale and dolphin watching location that you wish to go to OR a month that you wish to go in.

 

Select a Location

Click on a location below to read information on the season and probabilities of marine mammal sightings recorded by month.

Choosing an Operator

 

When choosing a tour operator, make inquiries to ascertain a candidate’s reputation. The internet is a good place to find reviews and discussions by those who have travelled with the operator earlier. Pay particular attention to what experienced expedition members and seasoned enthusiasts have to say.

 

Insensitive operators are known to chase whales and dolphins that are trying to avoid them, or use inappropriate approaches, frightening or stressing the animals and causing them to dive for longer periods than is normal for them. In patronizing such operators, we would be acting to the detriment of marine mammals, with unforeseeable and quite possibly dangerous consequences.

 

When you book with a commercial operator, try to negotiate a guarantee option.

Marine mammals are found in Sri Lankan waters throughout the year off all maritime provinces, but sightings cannot always be assured. For this reason, commercial whale and dolphin watching is a seasonal activity whose timing at different locations round the island is influenced by weather patterns, sea conditions and, to a lesser extent, marine mammal movements and migrations.

 

The first and second intermonsoonal seasons represent the peak of cetacean movements round Sri Lanka. The best period being mid March to mid April during the first intermonsoonal season. Be aware that year to year variations in sightings can shift as much as one calendar month.

Select a Month

Click on a month below to read information on the best locations for sightings of marine mammals.

Check Sea Conditions

Click on a Windguru link below for the location forecast. Check that wind conditions are forecast to be favourable when you wish to go whale and dolphin watching. It is best to go whale and dolphin watching in calm wind conditions when the sea state is BS0 to BS2. Wind speeds of more than 6 knots will significantly reduce your probability of sightings and may be uncomfortable for the average whale watcher. Don't be deceived by a calm looking sea from shore.

 

It is recommended that you make your booking no more than one week in advance when wind conditions are better known.

 
 
 
 
Kalpitiya Peninsular, Northwestern Maritime Province

Whale watching season: September to May

The first and second intermonsoonal seasons represent the peak of cetacean activity round Kalpitiya Peninsula and the Puttalam archipelago. A broad range of species, such as sperm whales, Bryde's whales, Eden's whales, blue whales, pilot whales, Risso’s dolphins and bottlenose dolphins, as well as some of the largest concentrations of individuals of a given species in Sri Lankan waters, are to be seen here at this time.

 

April is the best month of all for diversity. The hottest spots for cetaceans in this region are off Alankuda, Talawila and in the Bar Reef area. The latter two areas support coral reefs in the shallows and all have interesting underwater topography. The largest and most consistent aggregations of spinner dolphins, not only in Sri Lanka but in the entire Indian Ocean, are to be found west of the Kalpitiya Peninsula in an area stretching from Udappu to north of the Bar Reef Marine Santuary (BRMS).

 

Pods of spinners on their daily commute can often be seen travelling along a longitudinal transect between 3.3 and 7 km (1.8-3.8 nm) from the shoreline. This transect is known as the ‘dolphin line’ is frequented by boat operators.

Another longitudinal transect about 3.7 km (2 nm) from the shoreline stretching from Norochcholai to the BRMS is a critical habitat for baleen whales and juvenile whale sharks.

Vessels operate off the beaches along the peninsular from Norochcholai and Alankuda to Kandakuliya and out of Kalpitiya harbour in Dutch Bay. Majority of operators are at Alankuda beach. Average whale and dolphin watching trip is 2 to 3 hours. Almost all of the vessels are 18' dinghies.

Humpback dolphins can also be seen regularly, all year round. They regularly enter the Dutch Bay estuary with the rising tide to feed. Bottlenose dolphins occasionally accompany humpbacks on their excursions towards Puttalam Lagoon during March and April (the cuttlefish season); two dolphin feeding areas of note are (1) north of Buoy No. 2 in Dutch Bay and, (2) at the mouth of Puttalam Lagoon, where they are found at high tide and spend many hours feeding. Both locations are about 10 minutes from Kalpitiya town. There is no need to travel the length and breadth of the estuary in search of dolphins, and these feeding areas provide clear land-based sighting opportunities from nearby islands.

 
Galle - Mirissa - Dondra - Tangalle - Hambantota, Southern Maritime Province

Whale watching seasonSeptember to May

Lying in the Northern Indian Ocean, Dondra is the southernmost nutrient-rich submarine canyon off the Indian subcontinent and is also a busy crossroads for shipping and marine animals. Dondra canyon, commencing just 5 km (2.7 nm) off Dondra Head, is the best place in the world for the largest blue whale aggregations that come to feed on blooms of plankton. Blue whale sightings are commonest east of the canyon in October-November and west of it from March to May.

 

Besides blue whales, the whale-watching season on the south coast provides opportunities to see Bryde’s whales, Eden's whales, sperm whales, orcas, false killer whales, bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins and Risso’s dolphins. The sperm whale season is generally between November and May. More generally, the best whale and dolphin watching is during the two intermonsoonal periods, the best month of all being April. Transient orcas are seen every year by whale watching vessels. Sightings have been recorded from late December through to April.

As the Northeast Monsoon Current (NMC) begins flowing in December, aggregations of krill and other zooplankton generated by upwelling in the Dondra canyon and open ocean are carried westward and northward as they rise toward the surface. Whale sightings are therefore most frequentin an area 4-13 km (2-7 nm) west of the Dondra canyon walls at this time. December to April is the peak commercial whale-watching season at Mirissa.

Vessels operate out of several locations such as Dondra harbour, Mirissa harbour, Weligama Bay harbour, Unawatuna Bay and Galle harbour. Although there are several locations the majority of operators are at Mirissa harbour and they all target the same whales found off Dondra canyon in and around the shipping lanes. A few operators may start operations earlier in August or September even though calm sea conditions normally do not prevail. Average whale and dolphin watching trip is 5 to 7 hours. Most of the vessels are larger than dinghies and about the size of multi-day fishing boats with two-decks.

 
Batticaloa - Trincomalee - Nilaveli - Mullativu, Eastern Maritime Province 

Whale watching seasonMarch to November

The largest submarine canyon in Sri Lankan waters begins in Trincomalee harbour. No other canyon in these waters runs so close to shore; and Trincomalee’s is also the only known multiple canyon system in Sri Lanka. Created by runoff from the country’s greatest river, the Mahaweli, this canyon complex makes ‘Trinco’ a cetacean hotspot – and the best place in all Sri Lanka for land-based whale and dolphin sightings.

 

The likeliest terrestrial vantage point for whales moving along the main canyon is Norway Islet, which provides a clear westward prospect towards Tambalagam Bay, where the declivity commences. From here one can follow the direction of the canyon system as it zigzags northward past Flagstaff Point (Swami Rock). Round Island is best for dolphins, which can be seen from there on most mornings. Both these islands are located in the outer Trincomalee harbour.

 

Konneswaram Temple on Swami Rock provides the best vantage point for whales, both near by and further out at sea. They are usually sighted in July-August feeding between the main Trinco canyon and the south canyon. Whales and dolphins are also occasionally seen from several other vantage points, mainly in the outer harbour. Land-based sightings are most likely during the morning hours particularly in August when most whale sightings occur in the outer harbour area.

 

In March and April, Trinco plays host to a wide variety of whale and dolphin species. This is the best time of the year to see beaked whales and the largest aggregations of sperm whales and the Bryde’s whales complex. Other times of the year, though, are also good: blue whales and sperm whales are present in their largest numbers between October and April, orcas are sighted in September, while March-June is best for pilot whales and false killer whales. Spinner dolphins are found almost daily in and around Koddiyar Bay during morning hours, particularly near Round Island.

Deep-sea-dwelling beaked whales apart, there is no need to travel more than 22km (12nm) from shore at any time of year to experience Trinco’s

marine mammal riches. Between July and October, prime conditions for whale watching prevail all along the coast north of the harbour, from Chapel Rocks to Kuchchaveli. From December to May, the prime sighting zone runs from south of Nilaveli to Foul Point lighthouse. This variation is due to the action of seasonal currents on the outflow from the Mahaweli River. Overall, the areas directly west of Elizabeth Point and Chapel Rocks are best for marine mammal sightings.

 

Trinco is the best location in Sri Lanka to see either blue whales or sperm whales in the first month of the first intermonsoon and the second month of the second intermonsoon.

 

Vessels operate off the beach at Back Bay in Kuchcheveli, in front of Fort Fredrick at Dutch Bay, the jetty in the Port and from Nicolson Cove in the Trincomalee naval dockyard. Majority of operators are at Back Bay beach. Average whale and dolphin watching trip is 2 to 3 hours. Most of the vessels in Back Bay are 18' dinghies while the other locations operate from larger, more confortable vessels.

Whale and Dolphin Watching Calendar Highlights
 
 
January

Northeast Monsoon.

Dondra is best for blue whales while Kalpitiya is best for Bryde's and Eden's whales and the largest aggregations of spinner dolphins. Trinco is off-season due to prevailing monsoon winds.

February

Northeast Monsoon.

Dondra is best for blue whales while Kalpitiya is best for Bryde's and Eden's whales and the largest aggregations of spinner dolphins. Trinco is off-season due to prevailing monsoon winds.

 
 
March

First Intermonsoon.

Trinco and then Dondra is best for blue whales and their calves. Trinco and then Kalpitiya are best for sperm whales. Kalpitiya has largest aggregations of spinner dolphins. Trinco is best for beaked whales.

April

First Intermonsoon.

Dondra is best for blue whales while Kalpitiya is best for sperm whales. Blue whale calves peak month. Sperm whales and then blue whales leave the Trinco area heading south. Kalpitiya is best for diversity of marine mammal sightings.

November

Second Intermonsoon.

Trinco and Dondra are best for blue whales. Kalpitiya is best for sighting sperm whales with calves and the largest aggregations of spinner dolphins. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
May

Southwest monsoon.

If the southwest monsoon winds have not started then it is the same as April. Otherwise only option is Trinco where blue whales are still moving out.

June

Southwest monsoon.

Only Trinco is open for whale and dolphin watching. Dondra and Kalpitiya are off-season due to prevailing monsoon winds. Low season for whale sightings in Trinco. Trinco outer harbour is best for spinner dolphin aggregations, Bryde's whales and Eden's whales.

July

Southwest monsoon.

Only Trinco is open for whale and dolphin watching. Dondra and Kalpitiya are off-season due to prevailing monsoon winds. Low season for whale sightings in Trinco. Daily dolphin sightings at outer harbour.

August

Southwest monsoon.

Trinco is best for land based whale sightings and Trinco outer harbour is the best location for both whale and dolphin sightings. Blue whales and sperm whales are occassionally sighted.

September

Southwest monsoon.

Trinco and Dondra are best for blue whales. Bryde's whales start to return to Trinco. Blues are most;y found southeast off Dondra canyon. Daily spinner dolphin sightings.

October

Second Intermonsoon.

Trinco and Dondra are best for blue whales and Trinco for returning sperm whales. Daily spinner dolphin sightings.

December

Northeast Monsoon.

Dondra is best for blue whales. Kalpitiya is best for sighting sperm whales with calves and the largest aggregations of spinner dolphins. Trinco is off-season due to prevailing monsoon winds.

© Howard Martenstyn

Read copyright & disclaimer notices.

  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Google+ Social Icon
  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon

FOLLOW ME