In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka

Tripoto

Mirissa is a small town on the south coast of Sri Lanka, located in the Matara District of the Southern Province. It is approximately 240 kms (150 mi) south of Colombo. Mirissa's beach and night life make it a popular tourist destination. It is also a fishing port and one of the island's main whale and dolphin watching locations.

Photo of Mirissa, Southern Province, Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa

Dolphin watching was in the papers for too long. As most of the trips it kept getting postponed. Sometimes the weather didn’t permit, or the boat reservations were all packed. The season to watch dolphins starts from November to April. The ocean is calm during this season and therefore spotting them will not be much of a task. October to May is off season, although one can check out some whales during this time. But the sea will be rough and it is not advised to ride so far.

Google can give out so many trip organizers’ details like contact numbers where one can call them up and make a reservation, at least 5 days prior to the travel date. Boat trips are conducted daily starting early morning, from the Mirissa harbor and returning by noon. Morning is the best time to spot the dolphins and for those who have sea sickness, an early morning ride will not cause much trouble! We were asked to be at Mirissa harbor by 8 am by Gemunu, our contact person plus guide throughout the ride. There are so many budget lodging facilities within walking distance to the harbor, if one plans to arrive at Mirissa a day before and set off for the boat trip the next day. However, we were in Galle the day before and we took a very early morning bus to Mirissa on the same day. It took us about an hour to reach. It was a perfect December day, a friendly chill in the air. At the Mirissa harbor, the sight was quite colorful. All vibrantly painted boats aligned on the side, floating above the aqua green waters was a splendid picture. It was a bit crowded, not from the passengers, but the fishermen and sellers whose boats had just arrived from the sea, out flowing piles of silver fish and unloading the nets they carried. The fish buyers were checking out the loads and pricing them, and the young lads were carrying the plastic cartons to the trucks that have come to transport the fresh fish to the markets.

Mirissa harbor, on a December morning

Photo of In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa

Fish sellers - Harbor market

Photo of In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa

The dolphin watching observation boats were waiting for the passengers on the left side. We had to walk a little to the front of the jetty. All the boats looked the same, and we had to call Gemunu a couple of times to get to the right boat. We were the last ones to arrive so all the good seats had been already taken by the early birds.

Our team consisted of two girls including me and two boys. Vindya was already in fear as she was not a very sea person, therefore volunteered to sit upstairs and make no hassle!

It was a two story boat that accommodated 40 passengers comfortably. The downstairs had seats with proper belts and glass windows, and was protective of the sea winds. A small staircase led to upstairs where there were rubber mattresses to sit and it was like an open deck. I liked it better. It was the best for photos and to grab the real sailing feeling! We were given life jackets that we were to wear throughout the journey for safety purposes. Sitting next to us was a group of tourists from Philippines. I could see that they were already feeling sick as most of them were asleep even before the ride started!

Upstairs - deck

Photo of In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa

Finally we set off, into the blue sea and grey clouds. The sight of land kept vanishing slowly, and finally we were surrounded by nothing but water. It was as if we moved onto another planet, which had hidden treasures beneath the waters and we were strangers. For a moment, I felt the disconnection from everything else including the hassle from the city, work and people was so soothing, that I maybe didn’t want to go back. It also struck on me that we spend very little to notice the peace offered by nature and run after the temporary man made solutions that become a disaster later on.

Nothing but blue-ness

Photo of In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa
Photo of In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa

It was plain sea for about 40 minutes or so. We couldn’t do nothing but notice the white water splashing itself against the body of the boat, because of the motor roaring its way through, cutting apart the waters. I was standing, excited of the scenery and what was about to come. I kept telling Vindya to keep her mind focused elsewhere but the thought of falling sick anytime soon kept her busy. We were offered sandwiches by the boat crew and fruit juice with a bottle of mineral water as well (included in the trip charges). Fellow boats were riding along with us. The passengers waved at us with broad smiles. One boat was fully packed with Europeans. I could hardly make out any locals in many boats. Gemunu told us that there is a very high demand for these rides by the foreign travelers. He’s been in this business from the past 8 years and he said he knows the sea like a child and feels it from any angle.

Boats and the passengers eagerly waiting to spot the Dolphins

Photo of In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa

The boats then stopped after a ride of one hour, and floated idly. We were told to watch out for the dolphins. I had advised Buddhi to handle the camera, as I really wanted to see the dolphins with the naked eye, without having to put up with lenses and focusing. Suddenly we were lucky to spot a pod of dolphins swimming our way! They were glowing with the grey, shimmering skin, heads ducked under water, slipping through the waves. It was the first time I saw dolphins in their natural habitat and I was thrilled each time they popped up from the water. I kept shouting at Buddhi “that that, photo!” We moved a little further to see multiple pods putting up a show! Gemunu told us that the dolphins love human company, as they are known well for their friendliness. They sense that we are watching them. Therefore they become a bit of show offs! They were flipping their tales, whistling and swimming very near to the boats as if they were greeting the passengers. We were strictly informed not to feed them, as it could be dangerous for their natural existence.

Photo of In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa
Photo of In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa
Photo of In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa

On a good day, if one is lucky, and also a professional swimmer, they are allowed to step into the water and swim with the dolphins too. But it is not permitted to drift far away from the boat. It is also the area to spot whales and Gemunu said that we can never say if killer whales can hop in as well! I badly wanted to see a killer whale, but kept the thought inside me.

Photo of In the sea with Dolphins - Mirissa, South Sri Lanka by Sakie Ariyawansa

We watched the dolphins swimming around us for about an hour and never got tired of it. Vindya was already throwing up. She didn’t enjoy the show much and the sun was out making it really hot to be standing on the deck. I moved towards the shade and a little later the dolphins too, disappeared into the waters.

We rode back to land, and I was sitting. My legs pained from the upward journey and I wanted to rest. By the time we reached the harbor it was around 12.30 pm, and the heartless sun was pouring itself on us, mercilessly. We had more plans coming up like visiting the jungle beach and Japanese Sama temple. The Mirissa trip was one experience that I really treasure. It was high time seeing dolphins in their own homes and not in aquariums or land shows!

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