We have moved to www.ashadevos.com

The material on this site is the copyright of Asha de Vos. Photographs should not be used without the express permission of the photographer. For more information contact whalessrilanka@gmail.com

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Whale Alert: A new app to reduce ships colliding with whales

A new app named 'Whale Alert' hopes to reduce collisions between ships and endangered North Atlantic Right whales by providing captains with data on where the whales are. Watch the video to see how it works.

Perhaps some of you are wondering if this would be an option for our waters. Here are a few of the problems I foresee:

1. In the past when local scientists have placed instruments in the water, in no time at all they have gone missing. Expensive equipment such as acoustic buoys are tempting to take home. If we can think of a system by which to prevent these being removed from the water, we are moving in the right direction. (please note this happens in a lot of countries around the world)

2. We don't yet know a whole lot about the blue whales calls. One thing is that they aren't chatterboxes...so what if they are there and just not making any sound that can be picked up by the acoustic buoys? As part of the blue whale project, we are collecting acoustic calls of the blue whales in Sri Lankan waters to ascertain frequency of calls etc. Lots of interesting stuff to be done in this department.

3. We cannot depend on spotter planes etc because we don't have them.

Any other thoughts? Please send them along!

Click on the link for the full article: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2012/20120404_whale_app.html

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sperm whale gatherings in Baja, Mexico

Hi everyone,

This is potentially what it looked like in Kalpitiya over the last few days. This is a video from Baja, Mexico. Proof that our sighting was not an unusual one.

The videos are not great quality but really nice to see! Thanks Federico from Italy for sending these links to me this morning!

Ah...if only I was in Kalpitiya right now....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sperm whale gathering off Kalpitiya

All photo credits to Marine and Coastal Conservation Foundation.
We appreciate the use of their images to illustrate this story.

The recent sighting of 50-100 whales off Kalpitiya on the north west coast of Sri Lanka has generated a lot of interest. Rightly so. It was also a great example of how Sri Lankans have become more aware of their cetacean neighbours. To me that's very exciting.

I found out about the event through a text message from Arjan Rajasuriya forwarded to me by Dharshana Jayawardena (www.divesrilanka.com). In short, on the 14th of April 2012, approximately 100 sperm whales were sighted off Bar Reef. 

Following this text message, Arjan started an email discussion on the topic asking lots of really valid questions about the sighting. It was testament to how easy communication has become with modern technology. Here I was sitting at my desk in Perth, analysing data but still able to contribute.  Of course I would have LOVED to be out there observing, recording and photographing but one can't always have everything in life. 

I extended the discussion we were having to Prof. Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University, a world renown sperm whale expert and one of the key members of the of the Tulip project (along with Dr. Jonathan Gordon) that spent three years (from 1982) off Sri Lanka studying the social behaviour of living sperm whales in the Indian Ocean. 

Here's some of what was discussed over the past few days.

We still don't have a full grasp on the numbers sighted, but it can be quite confusing when you have many of these giants logging at the surface, fluking and moving. However, to answer the first question - is this unusual? No. Tropical waters are the preferred habitat of maternal groups and it is possible that this is a sighting of a  number of maternal groups using the same area. Its actually hard to define a group in this situation however, according to Dr. Whitehead, sightings of thousands of sperm whales is not unheard of. The whales off Sri Lanka were about 10-12 m in length (on the last estimate) which confirms that they are maternal groups as opposed to full grown males (or bulls) which are between 15-20 m.

So nothing to be too alarmed about. HOWEVER, what is most unusual about this sighting is the depth where the whales were seen. Based on the reports  they were in waters approximately 30 m deep (in one case as shallow as 15 m).  This is reasonably close to a steep drop in the shelf BUT these deep water dwellers are rarely seen in such shallow waters. While Dr. Whitehead thinks this might be something to think about, local researchers Arjan and Nishan Perera reckon that there might be lots of food around at the moment. There have been reports of fish and seabird activity. However, this may or may not be an indicator of squid availability. 

So we are still left with one big question - Why are these whales gathering in shallow waters? 

Maybe they were here to say Subha Aluth Avuruddhak Wewa! (Happy new year!) and hoping that an incredible sighting like this would make us marvel more and want our future generations to have the same opportunities we have had.

Click on this link for a report by the Navy (and to see photographs): http://www.navy.lk/index.php?id=3427

But remember, just because we haven't witnessed this ourselves before, doesn't mean it's not happening. 

NB: Just got an update about the location of the sperm whales. Yesterday and day before the whales were seen in an area where the water was 4-500 m deep. Good to hear they are shifting to more familiar territory (thanks Riaz Cader!)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mission Blue Interview: Celebrating Sri Lanka's Blue Whales

Photo credit: Yasha Hetzel

It was a great honour when the team at Mission Blue contacted me about an interview. Mission Blue is a global initiative formed in response to Sylvia Earle's 2009 TED Prize wish. Dr. Earle urged people "to use all means at your disposal -- films, expeditions, the web, new submarines -- to create a campaign to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas; Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the blue heart of the planet." 

Many of you will remember my excitement at meeting Dr. Sylvia Earle at TED in Long Beach. The excitement continues! Let's all join hands to accomplish this incredible TED wish! The time is NOW!

Click here for the interview: http://bit.ly/HMwCHv and here for more Partner Stories.

Monday, April 16, 2012

'Protecting the Giants of our Ocean' - Public lecture

Thank you to everyone who attended the public lecture at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute on the 5th of April 2012. There's nothing better than talking to a full house, particularly one full of people who I know care about protecting Sri Lanka's natural heritage as much as I do. 

Not only did I feel extremely honoured to be delivering a talk within the beautiful surrounds of the LKIIRSS but I was most pleased that Arjan agreed to do the welcome address. Arjan is a mentor to my generation of marine scientists in Sri Lanka and has contributed immensely to our knowledge of the waters around our island. 

Click here for a link to the official press release from the LKIIRSS: http://www.kadirgamarinstitute.lk/events.htm and some of the media coverage can be accessed here: http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=49301 and http://www.dailynews.lk/2012/04/10/news26.asp

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Young Asia TV interview with Sanjana Hattotuwa: Watch it here!

Seeing as groundviews has done a more comprehensive write up about the contents I would ask you to click here http://groundviews.org/2012/04/12/protecting-the-enigmatic-blue-whales-of-sri-lanka-in-conversation-with-asha-de-vos/ for more information about offshoots of this interview and other related outcomes.

This interview will be aired on Sri Lankan TV from the 15th of April 2012. Click on this link for viewing times http://whalessrilanka.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/young-asia-television-interview.html

However, thanks to 'hasulad' who found the link on vimeo, you can watch it right here. Thanks to YA TV for the opportunity and big thanks to Sanjana Hattotuwa for being a fun and wonderful interviewer to work with. Please note this was shot in one sitting - all 24 minutes. I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Indian-Ocean-wide Tsunami watch in effect: Stay safe, stay inland

ORIGIN TIME - 0839Z 11 APR 2012

Earthquakes of this size have the potential to generate a widespread destructive tsunami that can affect coastlines across the entire Indian Ocean Basin.  However - it is not known that a tsunami was generated. This watch is based only on the earthquake evaluation. 

For estimated initial wave arrival times click here: http://ptwc.weather.gov/ptwc/text.php?id=indian.TSUIOX.2012.04.11.0845. Bear in mind actual arrival times may differ and the first wave may not be the largest. A tsunami is a series of waves and the time between successive waves can be five minutes to one hour. 

My friends report feeling the tremor in places like Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh. Please everyone, stay safe, stay inland and spread the word.

Article in Island newspaper post public lecture


Amazing images of Bryde's whale swallowing a whole shoal of sardines

Doug Perrine/SeaPics.com/solent

World renown underwater photographer Doug Perrine (http://seapics.com/information/about-us/Doug-Perrine.html) travelled to Mexico's Baja Peninsula to capture these spectacular photos of a Bryde's whale feeding on an entire shoal of sardines! 

Very little is known about the Bryde's whale that resides in tropical and subtropical waters. It happens to be one of the 3 large whale species regularly spotted in Sri Lankan waters.  Individuals are easily recognisable because of their distinct sickle-shaped dorsal fins and dark (dark grey - black) body colouration. Females (that are slightly larger than males) grow up to 12-15 m in length and weigh 12,000 kg on average.  

We still have plenty to learn about this species but these photos give us an idea of their feeding behaviours and capabilities! Click here to see more! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2127159/A-large-sardine-supper-Giant-whale-caught-camera-swallowing-shoal-fish.html

Also -- Google 'Doug Perrine' to check out some of his incredible photographs and contributions to furthering our understanding of the wonderful marine creatures that surround us! 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The incredible scale of oceans and lakes!

Credit: XKCD/Randall Munroe

This is a brilliant educational webcomic that gives a sense of the scale differences between the freshwater bodies and salt water bodies on our planet! Click here http://xkcd.com/1040/large/ to view the large version that allows you to read all the little comments! 

P.S: Blue whales dive deeper than nuclear subs!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Reach Out: Celebrating Role Models Day 12

Photograph by Shakir Jamaldeen
I feel really honoured to be featured as one of the Role Models for women in Sri Lanka. The ladies that surround me on this blog are all incredible in their own right and have carved their own niches against all odds. I salute you!

Click on this link for more: http://reachoutlk.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/celebrating-role-models-day-11-2/#comment-123

Young Asia Television Interview

Hopefully I will have a link to circulate soon but until such time my YA TV interview with Sanjana Hattotuwa will be aired on the following days from the 15th of April onwards.

15th April - Sunday   - TNL 7.30 pm
16th April - Monday   - ETV 10.30 pm
17th April - Tuesday  - ETV 12 noon
19th April - Thursday  - ETV 12 noon

Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed giving it!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Returning to the classroom...

Miss Shermila taught me when I was 5. Today I returned to her classroom not as a student but in an effort to open the minds of the next generation
A section of my discerning audience.
Talking about BIG things like blue whales (I was sweating profusely because I was having so much fun)
Props are important when talking to kids. If my silliness drives them to follow their hearts - so be it!
Listening to stories, answering questions

Today I returned to the classroom of Mrs. Shermila Rajaratnam - my teacher at Ladies' College when i was 5 years old. Since then she has opened up a school of her own, where she grooms the future generations of our world. I was extremely excited and honoured to be invited back to give two talks. The kids ranged from age 3-6 and were incredible to be around. 

Luckily for me I am a hoarder and have a number of sea creature stuffed toys that make great props. It also helps that being silly is partly my thing. Flip flopping around in my mask and fins may be the only thing that these kids remember - in which case, I will not have failed. 

A few of the memorable moments included - 
1. when a kid told me that whales had holes on their heads and water comes out (I showed him a photo of a whale blowing and explained how the hole was its nose and that it was his breath), then he got up a few minutes later and told me that dolphins also had the same hole on their head that they breathed through and I was so pleased and then he stood up a third time and told me that tigers also had a hole on their heads through which water came out...yes I did correct him on that one.
2. When a little boy stood up and told me that his dad had gone to the sea and seen a shark and the shark had eaten a turtle and a fish and a tortoise and a dolphin......that must have been one HUNGRY shark!
3. When one little boy told me that he had had a dream of a whale...and the whale was really big....and it was green! (I did tell him that imagination was important and it was fine that his whale was green especially in his dream)
4. When a little girl told me she had seen a sea snake and about 15 others also put their hands up and started telling me they had seen sea snakes
5. When a little boy told me he wanted to be a marine biologist when he grew up and another immediately told me he wanted to study planets
6. When one little girl told me she had lots of fish and when I asked what their names were...she thought long and hard and said.... gold fish!
7. When I told them that the sea horse was the only animal in the world that the daddy carried the babies and this little boy put his hand up and said 'when I was small I was in my ammi's (mother's) bundy (stomach) and then she went to hospital and they cut her stomach and took me out'. I told him that if thats how his mum said it happened, then thats exactly what happened.
8. When, at the end, this little boy came and gave me a truly beautiful bouquet of yellow flowers.

What a day. My whale journey began at the age of 6. I hope that today I have inspired at least one of these kids to join me on my quest in the future. 

Thank you Miss Shermila for the great opportunity and for playing a role in who I have become today!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Meeting Tony Wu (HOO!)

Serene, Tony, Myself and Julia
Last night, my parents kindly agreed to drive me to Mirissa to meet up with (FINALLY!) Tony Wu. Tony is an incredible underwater photographer who I have been email buddies with for some time. As a result of this, I had the great fortune of using his compelling images of Sri Lankan blue whales in my TED talk, for my talks this morning (see next blog post) and in my upcoming public lecture (tomorrow!). The stories of his many encounters are breath-taking. His ability to share his magic - phenomenal. He believes, as much as I do, that awareness is key. 

Accompanying him were too equally fascinating ladies Serene and Juila (http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=julia+sumerling&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8) who have spent time documenting the whales not only in our waters, but around the world. 

My only complaint? The evening ended far too fast. But, I am ever grateful to my parents (again!) for their undying support and for accommodating my dreams!

For more on Tony's incredible work check out his blog and his photo gallery!
http://www.tonywublog.com/#axzz1r3LbBSYj and http://www.tony-wu.com/