Cetacean occurrence and diversity in whale-watching waters off Mirissa, Southern Sri Lanka

Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Rajitha Sankalpa, Elle Pathirathnalage Darshana Nuwan Thilakarathne, Wenzhi Lin, Vidusanka Thilakanayaka, Chathurika Piumi Kumarasinghe, Mingming Liu, Mingli Lin, Songhai Li

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Scientific information is vital to the conservation of cetaceans and the management of whale-watching activities. The southern coastal waters of Sri Lanka are near a narrow continental shelf and biologically abundant in cetacean species. Although the occurrence of cetaceans has been investigated in certain waters of Sri Lanka, few surveys have been conducted along the southern coast. To fill this gap, we conducted boat-based surveys from January to May 2017 to investigate the occurrence, diversity, and behavior of cetaceans in the waters off Mirissa, covering a survey area of 788.9 km2. During 55 survey days, we recorded a total of 242 cetacean sightings and identified at least 9 species (3 mysticetes and 6 odontocetes). The blue whale was the most common mysticete species (167 of 174 mysticete encounters), followed by the Omura's whale (4 of 174) and Bryde's whale (3 of 174). The spinner dolphin was the most common odontocete species (28 of 68 odontocete encounters), followed by the sperm whale (18 of 68), common bottlenose dolphin (13 of 68), short-finned pilot whale (5 of 68), melon-headed whale (2 of 68), and killer whale. Blue whales and sperm whales exhibited a clear preference for outer shelf and high slope areas, and blue whales were observed feeding along these waters. The present study provides near-baseline information on cetacean occurrence and diversity in whale-watching waters off southern Sri Lanka, and highlights the urgent need for proper management strategies for whale-watching activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)462-476
Number of pages15
JournalIntegrative Zoology
Issue number4
Early online date18 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • cetaceans
  • diversity index
  • dolphins
  • Sri Lanka
  • whale-watching

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