Best Time To See Whales In Mirissa And 2 Great Whale Watching Tours

Created by Colleen Sims * 3 January 2024

Colleen and Gerry on a boat whale watching in Mirissa
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We Saw Blue Whales From Mirissa!

We always knew that whale watching would be part of our Sri Lanka itinerary.  Blue Whales live in the southern Sri Lankan waters of the Indian Ocean off the coast of Mirissa and to be able to witness this incredible creature in its natural environment would be amazing.

We visited in December, which is said to be a good time and we did spot majestic blue whales.

However, the more I researched whale watching in Mirissa, the more concerned I was that we would be contributing to the demise of these graceful animals.   Thankfully there are two fabulous whale watching companies offering incredible responsible whale watching tours from Mirissa.   

When Is The Best Time To See Whales In Mirissa?

Many experts agree that the deep southern waters of Sri Lanka are some of the best in the world for seeing blue and sperm whales.

The best time to see those whales is from November/December to March/April and the best opportunity to spot whales is in the early morning.

Blue whale sightings are regularly recorded on the continental slope of southern Sri Lanka between December and March.  From April to October sightings are less but mostly due to unfavourable weather conditions at sea.  Tours do run during these times but only if the sea conditions allow. 

Sir David Attenborough, Blue Planet

Good To Know : If you’re visiting in May, June or July during the worst of the monsoon season, it is unlikely that you’ll find a tour.

Is Mirissa A Good Place To See Whales?  

Mirissa’s rich marine environment provides the perfect feeding ground for whales.  The continental shelf drops steeply offshore and nutrient-rich waters rise from the depths, attracting krill and other small marine life.  Additionally, the warm, sheltered waters offer a safe haven for breeding and raising calves.

Estimating the exact number of whales around Mirissa is challenging but research suggests a healthy population with increasing numbers of sightings reported.  

Conservation efforts and responsible whale watching practice plays a crucial role in protecting these glorious creatures.

a blue whale off the coast of Sri Lanka near Mirissa in December 2023, one of the best times to see whales in Mirissa

What Whales Can You See From Mirissa?

Mirissa is a world-renowned whale watching hotspot, offering incredible opportunities to witness whales in their natural habitat.   Of course, no one can guarantee a sighting, but the seas around Mirissa offer great potential.

Blue Whales

The world’s largest animal, these gentle giants can reach up to 30 meters in length and weigh over 200 tons.   The undisputed kings of the ocean, they are most commonly seen from November to April.

Sperm Whales

Sperm whales boast the largest brain among all animals.  Most commonly found in Mirissa’s waters in March, these elusive creatures can dive to incredible depths and remain underwater for considerable times.   

Fin Whales

The second-largest whale after blue whales, these sleek giants can reach up to 27 meters in length.   

We were lucky enough to spot two Fin Whales on our tour in December.

Sei Whales

Sei whales are another endangered whale that is commonly sighted between December and April when they migrate to feed on the abundant krill and small fish.

Bryde’s Whales

Often mistaken for fin whales due to their similar dorsal fin.  From underneath these whales are very different with their huge expanding throat pleats which allow their mouths to expand during feeding.   They are resident in the area and can be spotted throughout the year.

Humpback Whales

Humpbacks can be found around the coast of Sri Lanka but its less common as this is not their usual migratory region.  However, they have occasionally been seen off the coast of Mirissa

Orca Whales

The Orca Project of Sri Lanka has revealed some interesting discoveries a well as confirmation that some orca return to Sri Lanka with sightings between December/January and March/April. Sightings tend to coincide with the Blue and Sperm whale season suggesting that the orcas may be hunting these and the plentiful dolphin in the area.

Pilot Whales

Pilot whales are often spotted on whale watching tours from Mirissa. They hit the headlines in 2020 when a huge pod of 120 pilot whales beached on the shore, leading to an incredible rescue effort to save them.

Minke Wales

Minke whales are smaller in size compared to other whales, measuring up to 10 meters in length. They are known for their slender bodies, pointed snouts, and distinct white bands on their flippers. They are fast swimmers and can often be seen between December and April.

Dolphins

Adding to the marine spectacle, several dolphin species, including spinner dolphins, spotted dolphins, and bottlenose dolphins, are frequently seen in the waters around Mirissa.

And if all of these amazing creatures aren’t enough to entice you to Mirissa then flying fish, turtles, manta rays and even whale sharks have been spotted off the coast.

yacht alone at sea whilst whale watching off the coast of Mirissa

Why You Should Only Book An Ethical Whale Watching Tour

Firstly if you want to see whales then responsible, ethical captains are generally better informed.  They will certainly be more knowledgeable of the local whale population and will have the better chance of finding whales; this alone will make for a better experience for you (and the whale).

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, blue whales and sperm whales are rare.  Blue whales were almost hunted to extinction and by 1966 they were so scarce that the International Whaling Commission declared them protected throughout the world. 

As people turn away from zoos and captive animals, they turn to seeing animals in the wild; whales included.  Sadly, this demand has led to a rise in unethical whale watching tours. 

Unethical tours chase whales and crowd them causing distress.  This leads to whales moving out of their natural habitat and feeding grounds, which in Sri Lanka, puts them into the path of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

It is estimated that 100s of whales have been accidently killed in shipping collisions.

Top Tip : Save the Wales and not the pennies.  Choose an ethical responsible whale watching tour.

Mirissa Harbour in the early morning as we leave for our whale watching tour

Are There Ethical Whale Watching Tours in Mirissa?  

Yes. Whale watching can be ethical.  Many tours collate data for research and work with universities and local conservation projects. 

There are two companies that we know of that offer responsible and ethical whale watching tours in Mirissa :

During our time at sea, we witnessed smaller boats chasing a whale and larger boats crowding and closing in on whales.  Even we could see this was just awful for the whale and I’m so pleased that we were not on those boats and it was not part of our experience.  Our captain turned and went elsewhere. 

It is entirely possible to see whales without causing distress.  Our boat certainly did. 

If you’d like more information on whale watching guidelines take a look at

Booking with one of the companies we’ve recommended means:

  • You are part of something positive.
  • You are learning about whales and their habitat.
  • You will be at sea for longer. Tours can last 6 hours or longer and smaller boats simply can’t do this.
  • The boats are bigger, better, less crowded and more sea worthy.
  • The captain and crews are more knowledgeable and this greatly increase you chance of sighting whales.
colleen whale watching of the coast of Mirissa in December; one of the best times for whale watching in Mirissa
  • Ethical and follows international whale watching guidelines
  • Excellent boat, not crowded and offers a full day of whale watching
  • Gluten free meal options

Top Tip : The Indian Ocean is not a calm sea and if you tend to get sea sick then do make sure you take seasick pills 1-2 hours BEFORE you board.  You can find them in every pharmacy in Sri Lanka; the recommended brand is Avomine.

Can You Swim, Snorkel Or Dive With Whales

In Sri Lanka, swimming with whales is illegal without special government permits. Despite this unscrupulous tour operators continue to offer tours, regardless of the distress it causes the animals.

This activity is illegal in Sri Lanka. Operators are not concerned with the welfare of the animal nor often the safety of clients; often operating in rough seas.

Dr. Asha has been pushing for better enforcement for many years and regularly discusses the research backed impact this activity has.  She asked that if you see this activity being offered that you send details to Oceanswell.

Gerry looking like the cat that had the cream!  he loved our whale watching trip and was so happy to have seen blue whales

How Much Is A Whale Watching Tour From Mirissa?

We were surprised at how inexpensive the whale watching tours were.  Expect to pay around 70$ per person.   We felt this represented excellent value for money and have paid considerably more to see whales elsewhere.

We left the harbour at 6:30am.  The boat offered breakfast; they even made a gluten free option for me.  Coffee and soft drinks were available and snacks too later around midday.  We were at sea for over 6 hours and there was an opportunity to swim and jump from the boat when we returned  to the harbour. 

Important : Please do not book a cheaper tour to save money.  Book a responsible tour and save the whales instead.

What To Expect From Whale Watching In Mirissa?

Blue whales typically feed at depths of more than 100 metres and usually only surface-feed at night. Dive times are between 10 to 20 minutes although the longest recorded dive is 36 minutes.

This means that if you spot a blue whale on the surface you may have to wait a considerable time before it returns, if it returns to the same spot.

If you’ve been on other whale watching tours, particular of Humpbacks, you might be surprised by how little of the blue whale is visible.   You are less likely to see a blue whale breach or raise its tail in an elegant dive.  A couple of times all that we spotted was the blow and a glimpse of its side as it returned to the deep.

I think you’ll need more patience on the Mirissa whale watching tours.  During our trip in mid-December it was perhaps two hours before we saw anything.  We travelled a distance out to sea and thankfully our larger boat could stay out longer and the captain was experienced enough to wait.  In the end we saw 3 blue whale sightings, bryde and fin whales and what I believe was a minke whale breach out of the water.

We were very lucky, even spotting dolphins and sea turtles.  We had an amazing day and wouldn’t have missed it for the world. 

the sun rising above the palm trees at Mirissa harbour as we left for our whale watching trip

How Does Whale Watching In Mirissa Compare With Other Locations In The World?

We love whale watching.  We’ve seen whales in the Puget Sound of Washington State, New England, Maui, California and even Iceland’s Arctic Circle and every experience has been different.

Our tours in the US and Iceland were perhaps more ‘chatty’ and the marine biologists on board had PA/loud speaker systems to be heard.  I would say that all of those tours were bigger with more passengers on board.

Our tour in Sri Lanka was more low key but nonetheless we learned a great deal and the crew were excellent at spotting whales.

I don’t think we saw as much as on other tours but that doesn’t detract from the fact that we saw blue whales.  And this tour was perhaps our longest whale watching tour.

We have also never seen such blatant disregard for the animals and I wish the Sri Lankan authorities would enforce the regulations and I wish that tourists would stop taking those tours.

BUT… All that aside, blue whales are the biggest animals that have ever lived on our planet. If ever you needed a reason to visit Mirissa this would be it.  We watched to sun rise over the Indian Ocean and had the privilege of watching blue whales in their natural environment. It was a gift that we will never forget.

failed whale photo.  you can only see the splash after the blue whale had dived
It’s very hard to catch a photo of the Blue Whale. This was the water just as the glorious creature dived. Thankfully the crew on board our ship were much better at taking photos and video!

When Is The Best Time To See Whales In Mirissa And Is It Worth It?

 Mirissa offers a magical opportunity to witness some of the planet’s most awe-inspiring creatures. If you are visiting Sri Lanka’s southern coasts between December and March then you have a good chance of seeing a Blue Whale.  Without doubt it is worth it.

Please ensure that you choose a responsible whale watching operator who prioritises the animals’ well-being and follows ethical guidelines

With luck and a fair wind you too might just witness an unforgettable encounter with these magnificent creatures of the deep.

Save Whales because they are great for our planet as this Whale Pump diagram shows
Whales are helping our planet as this diagram shows us; find our more at Whales.org.

Going to Sri Lanka? Take a look at my post on Tea Tasting in Nuwara Eliya and our amazing High Tea at the Grand Hotel.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel overseas it’s imperative to travel with a good travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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