The orca, or killer whale, is the ocean’s top apex predator. Large pods of these massive whales, with their distinct black and white markings, inhabit the cold waters off North America, Norway and Antarctica almost year-round. What many people don’t know is that there are transient killer whales that roam the world’s oceans in much smaller pods of just one to seven individuals. The movements of these small, fleeting pods are difficult to predict, however they are known to stalk the larger whale species and prey on their calves. It is the lure of the blue whale and sperm whale calves that entice the killer whales to Sri Lankan waters.
As a leading luxury experiential travel company, &Beyond not only operates exclusive safari lodges in seven countries, but we also create personalised travel itineraries in 15 African countries, as well as India, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. An ever-popular experience for our guests travelling to Sri Lanka is the whale-watching adventure off the shores of Mirissa, Trincomalee or Kalpitiya.
Riaz Cader, who is the Manager of Special Projects for our &Beyond office in Sri Lanka, recently joined one of these exciting excursions from the southern port of Mirissa in search of both blue and sperm whales. A wildlife enthusiast and avid photographer, Riaz joked with the crew that he also expected a killer whale encounter. Little did he know that his nonchalant request and lifelong dream would be met just 40 minutes later.
In Riaz’s words, “One of the eagle-eyed spotters on the boat shouted ‘killer whale’! I searched around frantically in disbelief when, silhouetted against the morning sunlight, an enormous dorsal fin appreciably bigger than the one in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws broke the water’s surface. The distinctive jet black and white markings and the prominent eye patch were soon revealed as the whale surfaced to breathe. It was a full grown adult male killer whale and an encounter in the flesh with the ocean’s top predator! Further away, a second orca with a smaller dorsal fin (a female) was being watched by another boat.
The pair briefly re-joined and then separated again. Tracking them was proving quite a challenge, but the expert crew did an excellent job keeping pace. We soon came across a pod of spinner dolphins, but surprisingly, the orca kept their distance. At one point, I could see Mirissa’s idyllic beaches in the background, while watching the killer whales at close range. It was a special sighting that will forever be entrenched in my mind. Later that day, we drove to Yala National Park and encountered a leopard. But that’s another story in itself.”
Photographs courtesy of Riaz Cader.