Local marine biologists, whale researchers and conservationists are in the process of formulating fresh guidelines which would institute a mechanism to regulate and monitor whale watching.

It is learned that the Government is also planning on imposing a tax on the process.

The blue whale population in the northern part of the Indian Ocean and other marine mammals such as porpoises and dolphins are found concentrated mostly in the southern part of Sri Lanka along the coastlines of Mirissa, Kalpitiya and Kapparatota.

Scientist at the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency, Upul Liyanage explained that between Rs 6000 to 6500 each was being charged from marine tourists but the service provided was not up to standard.

“Such a fee charged from tourists by tour operators and resort owners as recently pointed out by Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Mahinda Amaraweera, was high and akin to being swindled. Countries like Iceland are known to charge 100 US dollars for an individual on a whale watching tour,” Liyanage said.

He said that locally in the case of tours booked through reputed companies, the clients are aware of the fee charged well in advance.

“Those who give a quality service are the ones who provide the clients with tea or coffee upon entering the boat, which is a comfortable boat that carries only a limited number of passengers. The clients before embarking are informed of the prevalent weather conditions and given the choice of opting to stay on or not.

“If the clients are not able to see any whales, they are asked to come back the next day when they will be taken free of charge and if the client cannot come back the following day due to having to depart to another destination, they are given a refund. These are the privileges afforded and the clients will gladly pay Rs 6000 or Rs 6500 and such a figure would not be an exorbitant one,” he further said.

“On the other hand, there are those who don’t provide a quality service but instead fleece the client”.

Liyanage said he was aware that like packing coconuts 100 to 120 passengers are piled up into boats which are originally old fishing vessels converted and used for whale watching.

“The guide will take Rs 2000 or Rs 5000 and give Rs 1000 to the whale watching tour operator. From European clients the guide may even charge Rs 10,000 to Rs 12000,” Liyanage disclosed. “Therefore, whale watching tours must be regulated and monitored”.
He said guidelines in this regard are being drafted along with the Department of Wildlife Conservation.