IN SEARCH OF WHALES, Mirissa, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.15
Day 11 (1 of 2).
Mirissa is known as the best location for whale watching in Sri Lanka. In recent years, it is also considered as one of the world’s best spot for blue whale sighting. Doing a whale watching tour was one of the main reasons for us to visit Mirissa. While marketed as a special place in the world to have a good chance to see the blue whales, there are also opportunity to see fin whales, sei whales, sperm whales, bryde’s whales, orcas, dolphins, flying fish, turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, etc. just several miles out from Mirissa. There is never a 100% guarantee of sighting, but it is the expectation of seeing these elusive marine mammals that drives the multi billion marine tourism industry to grow rapidly around the world, including at Mirissa.
Mirissa was our second ever whale watching cruise after our wonderful orca encounter in Hokkaido, Japan six months prior. This time, weather was much warmer in tropical Sri Lanka, but the water of Indian Ocean was significantly rougher, and we spent much longer in the sea. While we didn’t hit the jackpot and see the blue whale, we did saw a fin whale, several groups of dolphins and a sea turtle in the 7-hour journey out in the sea.
At 5:55, a tuk tuk came to our hotel Mirissa Hills to pick us up. We were dropped at the office of Raja and the Whales to pay for the tour, and then followed the group to the dock.
At the dock, tourist boats from different companies were getting ready for the sail at 6:30am.
During the first half of the cruise we passed by a number of fishing boats.
The weather wasn’t perfect and the sea was rough at times.
Given the occasional rough conditions of the ocean, some fishing boats looked overly simple to us.
Apart from fishing vessels, we also saw large container ships in the distant horizon.
At about halfway of the journey, most tourists had their eyes closed to battle seasickness.
While we worried that the day might turn out fruitless, we finally had a brief encounter of a fin whale.
While it was difficult to determine the actual size of the animal, fin whale is in fact the second largest whale in the world, just after the blue whale.
Throughout the day, we had several encounters of dolphins.
For most of the times, we saw the dolphins in groups of about a dozen or more.
Most dolphins we saw were leaping in and out of the water in high speed.
My own photos were limited by the zoom extent of my camera lens.
After the journey, Raja sent us close up photos taken by a staff during the trip.
The staff even captured the twisting jump of a dolphin.
As well as a sea turtle swimming near the surface.
It was after noontime by the time we returned to the pier.
The day was getting hotter at the dock.
Walking back to the town, we passed by the office of Raja and the Whales again.
OCEAN PARK (海洋公園), Hong Kong
With 7.6 million admission recorded for year 2013-14, Hong Kong’s Ocean Park is considered to be the biggest theme park in Asia. Since 1977, the Ocean Park had been attracting locals and tourists with its amazing aquariums, zoological facilities, amusement rides, shows and entertainment attractions. With 91.5 hectares of land, the site is defined by two main areas: Waterfront and Summit, separated by the lush green hills of Nam Long Shan.
It has been 19 years since we last visited Ocean Park. A revisit of the park after two decades was quite interesting for us. In the old days, the park was renowned for its amusement rides, and shows of dolphins, sea lions and the orca named Miss Hoi Wai (海威小姐); today there are exotic animals and more cool amusement rides but Miss Hoi Wai was long gone. Back then, the park served mainly the local Hong Kongers; now over half of the visitors are from mainland China. As awareness of wildlife conservation grew in recent years, the park has also included educational interpretation for visitors. However, as documentaries like The Cove and Blackfish which reveal the cruel reality of marine theme parks, visiting a place like the Ocean Park has become a controversial matter. There are increasing concerns over keeping wild animals in captivity while advocating wildlife conservation through its funded programs and educational interpretation throughout the park
We spent the entire day wandering around Ocean Park, first at the lower Waterfront area checking out the splendid underwater world of the Grand Aquarium and the rare mammals including giant pandas, red panda and golden snub-hosed monkey from the Chinese Province of Sichuan pavilion and the Giant Panda Adventure pavilion. We then took a short cable car ride over Nam Long Shan to arrive at the Summit Area, where the distant scenery of Deep Water Bay and Aberdeen were equally impressive. Up on the Summit, amusement rides and wildlife exhibitions scattered upon several platform levels. We managed to see a number of wildlife exhibits before dusk, ranging from marine animals like jellyfish and sharks; freshwater fish like Yangtze sturgeons and Amazonian pirarucu; penguins, seals and walrus from the Arctic and Antarctic, etc. We took the relatively new Ocean Express funicular back down to the Waterfront area, where we made a brief visit to the children friendly Whiskers Harbour and enjoyed the last moments of the Symbio, a show that featured a 360 degree water screen, lighting effects and fireworks at the Lagoon by the park’s main entrance.
As we exited Ocean Park, we passed by the near completed MTR station. After new features have been added in recent years, Ocean Park is soon to go through another phase of transformations: first will come the convenience of the subway station, and second the highly anticipated Tai Shue Wan Water World, projected to be completed in 2018, almost two decades since the last water park closed its doors. Surviving through difficult economic times and competition from Hong Kong Disneyland Park, the ever-changing Ocean Park proved its resilience and ambitions. In 2012, it received the Swedish Applause Award, a highly regarded international prize in the theme park industry.
Bathed in mysterious blue light, schools of silvery fishes swim in circles in a multi-storey glass cylindrical tank. It is visually impressive and attracts all visitors’ attention at the Grand Aquarium designed by architect Frank Gehry.
Red panda and giant panda at the Giant Panda Adventure pavilion.
The cable car which links the Waterfront and Summit areas is an attraction by itself. The relaxing 15 minutes ride offers spectacular views of Deep Water Bay and South China Sea.
The Sea Jelly Spectacular pavilion display over 1000 sea jellies.
Splendid jellyfish glows under the special lighting.
Visitors walking through the glass tunnel while a rare Chinese sturgeon swims by in front.
“I’m FINished with fins” – A smart slogan to request people to refrain from consuming shark fins. Such education is crucial in Hong Kong where shark fin soup is still a luxurious delicacy in the banquet menu, even though there is increasing awareness among the younger generation. Years ago documentary such as Sharkwater has already explained the devastating consequences to the marine ecosystem on earth as the result of massive demand and consumption of shark fins
Close encounter with sharks at the Shark Mystique. Sharks are one of those animals often got misunderstood.
Amazonian pirarucu in the Rainforest Pavilion. These giant freshwater fish can grow up to 4.5m long.
Pacific walrus at the Polar Adventure pavilion.
The South Pole Spectacular pavilion features king penguins, southern rockhopper penguins and gentoo penguins.
Amusement rides are popular attractions at the Summit, including the “Hair Raiser”roller-coaster.
Partial view of the Summit area.
At Pacific Pier pavilion, a curious sea lion interacts with a spectator by following the visitor’s hand motions on the other side of the glass.
Ap Lei Chau, Ap Lei Pai and Lamma Island at dusk.
[left] a moon hanging above the Ocean Park Tower with slowly rotating viewing platform; and [right[ a seahorse decoration at the Ocean Express funicular station.
“Whirly Bird” chair ride beyond the Ocean Express funicular station.
[left] Cable cars bring visitors back to the Waterfront area from the Summit area in the evening when approaching closing time; [right] the light decoration of a small ferris wheel lit up in the evening at Whiskers Harbour.
When the kids’ zone Whiskers Harbour left alone without kids.
A wooden horse of a carousel in Whiskers Harbour.
Water, fire, light and fireworks are the main components of the 360° water screen show Symbio.