Whale-watching from above in Sri Lanka

What better way to watch the blue whales than from a low-flying, small aircraft off Sri Lanka’s picturesque southern coast? During a 45-minute flight from Koggala Airport off the coastal town of Galle, Feizal Samath was treated to an unforgettable experience of watching the majestic sea giants in ultimate comfort

Whale sighted spraying water out in plumes near the ocean surface

Why
Whale-watching from above is a new concept in Sri Lanka with F-Air promoting “air tourism”. The company follows the Whale and Dolphin Watching Regulations and Guidelines closely, flying at least 1,000 feet (305m) above sea level before coming down to 700 feet when a mammal is spotted in the ocean.

The flight also gives guests an aerial view of different places of beauty that may otherwise require some work to get to, including picturesque scenes of temples, lakes, mountain ranges and the Weligama Bay, which has a lovely resort perched on a small hill abutting the beach.

Whale sighted spraying water out in plumes near the ocean surface

What
At the Sri Lanka Airforce base at Koggala Airport, Galle, where F-Air’s three aircraft are parked, guests preparing to take off on the four-seater Cessna 172 aircraft are greeted with a chilled drink and a comfortable check-in lounge by a lake at the tail-end of the runway.

Whales are generally located between five to 15 nautical miles (8-25km) off the coast and as we fly above a cluster of tourist boats below – also on the same whale-watching expedition – we spot a blue whale.

The boats close in like a race – the fastest to get there gets the best (camera) shot – and it was then I got a better appreciation of how much of a luxury the plane tour was. We drop down to 700 feet and got a clear sight of a large, majestic blue whale at the surface of the water, spraying water out in plumes as it breathes.

In the midst of the excitement of my fellow whale watchers scrambling for their long-range cameras, another whale surfaces.

At different points, lone whales or those moving in groups are spotted gliding through the turquoise blue waters. Another perk of viewing from atop is that the aircraft are quieter than boats so whales are less likely to be scared away as planes approach.

We witness a whale take a huge dive beneath the surface, and Sanjay Adhikari, CEO at F-Air, shared with me that it would take 10 to 15 minutes for the majestic creature to surface again, since it dives to the depth of the ocean before rising.

As the Cessna moves away from the whales, we spot dolphins, a pod of 10 to 15 pilot whales, about four turtles and a group of wind surfers having fun, ending a magical 45-minute ride.

How
F-Air operates tours mostly on the weekends but handles special tours on request, which are taken through resorts.

The company has three Cessnas with two more due to be delivered in May-September. The company operates an average of six to eight whale watching flights a day.

The company also helps in data collection by transporting researchers studying blue whales. At 30m in length and 180 metric tons or more in weight, this is the largest known animal to have ever existed. F-Air plans to fix a camera on the underbelly of the aircraft to help marine biologists research whale movements.

Verdict
The view from 500-700 feet above sea level is absolutely breathtaking. After this experience, watching sea mammals from a boat may never quite be good enough.

No. of passengers: Three per flight
Rates: US$150 per ticket for adults and US$100 for children age 3-14 years; The company also offers package tours to 16 other scenic areas in Sri Lanka, as well as tours for research purposes, on a per-passenger rate or flat charter rate of US$300 per hour

Contact
Tel: (94) 77 444 5830
Email: info@f-air.lk
Address: F-airways, The Fairway, 100, Buthgamuwa Road Rajagiriya 10107, Sri Lanka

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