Omura’s Whale, Balaenoptera omurai, also known as the ‘dwarf fin whale’, was recently spotted in Sri Lankan waters by Asha de Vos. Little is known of the behavior of the Omura’s whale, the species having only being classified in the early 2000s. The Omura’s whale was previously thought to be a pygmy version of the Bryde’s whale. Omura’s whales typically move in pairs or as solitary individuals and feed on krill and schooling fish.
These five large whale species, a number of large dolphins, small dolphins, and the dugong make up the 29 species of marine mammals that have been observed feeding with small calves, and engaging in courtship, in Sri Lankan waters, indicating they undertake all their most important life functions here, Asha de Vos said.
According to de Vos, who has sailed 95% of the coastline in search of the mammals through different seasons, there are whales around the entire coastline of Sri Lanka, although people tend to flock to Mirissa, Kalpitiya, and Trinco because deep water is closer to the shore, and therefore accessibility a little higher.
Technically, the larger dolphins are also known as whales, de Vos said, explaining that the creatures would continue to live in Sri Lankan waters for as long as their requirements are met. For some of the whales, the warmer waters of the tropics appeal, while the natural marine ecosystem offers school fish, krill, and other varieties of small crustaceans.
Conserving our marine resources is important to ensure these ‘gentle giants of the ocean’ continue to live in our waters. A study conducted by the University of Ruhuna in Sri Lanka, local whale watch operator Raja and the Whales, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Biosphere Foundation, and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in 2014 and 2015, recommended that if shipping traffic crossing the Indian Ocean was moved 5 nautical miles further south than present, the risk to blue whales could be reduced by 95%. But although findings from the study were published in 2015, relevant authorities are yet to do anything to reduce the risk to whales. de Vos said she had been working to mitigate the impact of ship strikes on whales since 2012 and was currently working on an actionable document, with which to engage the government. It is to be hoped that the government will take this issue into consideration.
Cover: The elusive humpback whale, rarely spotted in Sri Lankan waters. Image courtesy nationalgeographic.com