Born in Columbo but armed with a degree in marine biology from Oxford. And currently a Ph.D student at the University of Western Australia in Perth.
She constantly applies for grants and seeks help from other scientists just to get basic equipment.
So we’ve got an echo-sounder here. It’s a scientific echo-sounder so it’s basically like a fancier fish finder.
I don’t have the equipment, it’s a nice expensive piece of equipment that tells a great story so I’ve bought in a team from Duke University because they have a lot experience with this equipment. They own the equipment, they’ve been using it all over the world to answer very similar kinds of questions.
This data’s never been collected in these waters before so it’s a really, really kind of new area that we’re kind of moving into.
This is a general purpose transceiver or a GPT. (and what does it do?) This receives a signal from our transducer. The echo-sounder, or the device in the water. And this communicates with the computer and sends a signal to the computer.
Hunted nearly to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries blue whales are in a state of fragile recovery across the globe. Only about fifteen thousand remain from the estimated three hundred thousand that once roamed the seas. They can grow to over one hundred feet in length and weigh over a hundred and fifty tons.
The population here off Sri Lanka are known as pygmy blue whales because they are slightly smaller than other groups. Yet they still grow to more than eighty feet.
Well, I like to call these guys the unorthodox whale because they have kind of broken all our assumptions about blue whale populations. They have these different behaviors, they have different call types in many ways I want to be the person that tries to understand these but also takes this out. You know, the world needs to know more about them because I think the more we understand, the more we can protect.
Protection is key, in 2009 Sri Lanka emerged from a brutal quarter century of civil war but with peace has come a rapid rise in tourism.
Tourism is booming. Unfortunately, the whale watching is unregulated in our waters because boats are just driving helter skelter, there’s very few operators that respect the animals. That to me is a worry, I don’t want it to explode into something that become a harassment to the whales.
Also the whales swim through one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. Ships strikes are common, dead whales are increasingly being seen.
This whale found in April had its tail nearly severed from the body, a sign of a potential ship strike. Another whale washed ashore in March. Asha often gets a call when dead whales are found.
When the shipping route’s just out there, it’s not very far out. And at the moment you can see one, two, three, four, five, six, seven big ships going right past.
It’s the largest animal that’s ever lived on the planet. You know, and we know next to nothing about it. So the other mission that I kind of have is to inspire new generations of marine biologists.
When I talk about it I have Sri Lankans with this look of amazement on their faces because we are a land of elephants and now we have whales, you know, blue whales. You know, it’s incredible they were just like forgotten children but I think in this new era of peace the blue whale is very fast becoming the new symbol of our country.