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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

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‘Protect the Blue Whales before they are lost’

A public lecture on “Protecting the Giants of Our Ocean” was delivered by marine biologist Asha de Vos, at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) on Thursday, April 5.

Asha de Vos leads the first major study of the unique Sri Lankan blue whale and is committed to scientifically understanding the population to protect them in the future.

She shared her research findings and experiences with a full audience at the Kadirgamar Institute auditorium in a well informed lecture full of new insights and knowledge into Sri Lanka’s blue whales, their behaviour, the grave and specific threats facing their existence, and how to protect them. The blue whale is globally ‘endangered’ due to being hunted for its oil, meat, and other parts by humans in the past, the total global population being only about 10,000 (from a pre whale population of about 300,000).

The welcome address at the lecture was delivered by Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, Executive Director of the Kadirgamar Institute. Arjan Rajasuriya, veteran Marine Biologist and Research Officer at the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), Sri Lanka gave an introduction to the speaker and shared memorable experiences from research expeditions he had undertaken with her.

The Unique Blue Whale of Sri Lanka

Asha de Vos shared with the audience, an answer to a question she has been asked repeatedly, “Is the blue whale population of Sri Lanka a new discovery, have they newly migrated to Sri Lankan waters?” She said the answer to this question is a clear, ‘No’.

She emphasized the uniqueness of the blue whale population in Sri Lankan waters. referring to them as the “unorthodox whales”, because they display behaviours different to other populations – for reasons we are yet to grasp. The longest recorded blue whale in Sri Lankan waters is 25 m, which makes them 5 m shorter than those found in the Antarctic. Asha said the biggest threat to Sri Lanka’s blue whales off the southern coast is ship strikes, as they reside in the midst of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world; the most recent strike being on March 20, 2012 when a blue whale came into the harbour on the bow of a ship.

A potential threat to the blue whales of Sri Lanka is the new and unregulated whale-watching industry. There is an urgent need for the whale-watching industry of Sri Lanka to adhere to regulations and international standards de Vos said.

She said she was heartened by the fact that she and her research vessel went through strict scrutiny of the coastguard as she was embarking on a research expedition, but said a lot more remains to be done in the conservation of blue whales in Sri Lanka.

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