Balaenoptera musculus is the largest animal that ever lived and makes even the largest dinosaur look small. Steve De Neef takes you behind the majesty of this great creature. (Text by Steve De Neef. Images by Franco Banfi)
One of the most unique populations of blue whales in the world today happens to live in an unlikely place. In 2009, Sri Lanka ended a deadly 25-year civil war that largely kept tourists, foreign scientists and researchers away from the surrounding waters. Since the war ended, tourism has increased rapidly and Sri Lanka has become one of the easiest countries in the world to spot these ocean giants. The hub of whale tourism is a small coastal town in the south called Mirissa.
In 2007, whale tourism started with two boats. Now there are 35 and some say the industry has expanded too quickly. It’s understandable why people would want to catch a glimpse of this magnificent animal.
Sri Lanka is one of the only places where you can observe them underwater, although you do need a government permit to enter the water with them. Seeing blue whales underwater is even more impressive. It’s very difficult to get close enough to one and have conditions good enough to see its full body but when you do it’s a sight you’ll never forget and will make you feel very small. When a blue whale swims past, you can feel its power. It’s amazing how fast something so large can move and how graceful they are in their natural habitat.
More than just Majestic
Along with tourism, research on whales has also increased, and while there is still much left to learn about the biggest animal in the world, dedicated scientists are finding out more about this unique population of blue whales. Most blue whale populations migrate vast distances, but in Sri Lanka they stay around all year long to feed, breed and calve. Blue whales
in Sri Lanka also tend to be a bit smaller – growing only to about 24 metres – and hence are now known as pygmy blue whales. One scientist in particular, Asha De Vos, is dedicating her life to researching the exceptional blue whales of her native Sri Lanka.