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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Creative Spot by Zita Perera Subasinghe




Joe is reminiscing on his times near the Negombo seaside where by evening the boats come in with fish, the sun sets and there are happy smiley faces all around. In the you tube link, the words and tune are by him and I am playing the Clavinova 605. It’s a rather amateur presentation but I hope you like it. Zita



Sitting by the Seaside

I am sitting by the seaside
Seeing the sun go down in glory
Boats are coming laden with fish
Happy smiley faces all around

We are sitting on the golden sand
Underneath the sky with shining stars
With the music buzzing all around
What a wonderful world it is

Is this scene but just a dream?
It just doesn’t seem real to me
But I wish the dream to go on and on
And not to wake up sad and blue








Friday, April 28, 2017

A Friendship that has stood the Test of Time

There are two articles that you should read in the Leisure section of last Sunday's Island newspaper.
One is about the Keynote address delivered by Harischandra Boralessa's (Bora) wife Harshi at the centenary celebrations of Visakha Vidyalaya Past Pupils Association at the London Buddhist Vihara.
The other is about a long standing E-mail group of Old Anandians which is still active written by me (Mine is reproduced below).

Click on the following link to read both.

http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=163895

If the link doesn't work,

1) Go to Google and type Infolanka.
2) Click on Island newspaper
3) You will see today's edition. Look for Island archives (on the right hand side)
4) Click on Sunday Island of 23rd April
5) Click on the Leisure section at the top.



 

article_image
A gathering of old Ananda College classmates at Blue Water, Wadduwa some years ago. Left to right - the late WDH Perera (Dermatologist), Ranjit Santiago, Lakhi Liyanage, Nalin Vitarana, the late Mike Udabage, Lakshman Abeyagunawardene, Upali Wickramasinghe and Pundarika Perera. 

by Lakshman Abeyagunawardene



We came together when we were all classmates at Ananda in the late fifties. When we left school after the University Entrance Examination in December 1960, we went our different ways, but met occasionally from time to time. It was with the advent of electronic communication before the turn of the Millennium, that we started exchanging e-mails as a group on a daily basis. This e-mail group has been exchanging e-mails with each other regularly over an unbroken period ever since then to this date – a total of about 20 years, to cement and reinforce a friendship that has lasted well over 60 years. The Founder of this small e-mail group was one in that group until his sad, untimely demise some years ago. To us as schoolboys at Ananda College, he was simply Mahipala Udabage, although he held important office as Head Prefect of Ananda and leader of the English debating team apart from numerous other minor extra-curricular assignments.

A few years before we dispersed on leaving school, Mahipala shot into prominence after he won the prestigious New York Herald Tribune scholarship at age 17, selection for which was based on an all-island essay competition on the topic "The World We Want". Past winners of this annual essay competition included the cream of schoolboy talent at that time. Jayantha Dhanapala of Trinity, the Fernando brothers Tissa and Gemunu of Royal and yet another distinguished Old Anandian Priyalal Kurukulasuriya to name a few. Mahipala too proceeded to the US and returned three months later acquiring the nickname "Mike". His host family in the States had found that calling him Mike was much easier than his parent given first name Mahipala. The nickname stuck on and to his close friends, he was Mike Udabage since then. Following a short stint in the private sector in Sri Lanka, he migrated to Australia in the early seventies. Mike has been a media person from the age of 27 and was domiciled in Sydney at the time of his untimely death.

In the December 1960 UE examination, along with Mike, two others in the group were selected to enter the Science Faculty of the University of Ceylon as it was then called. They were Daya Wickramatunga (a former District Governor of Lions Clubs and Head of the Unilever subsidiary Ceytea in Agrapatana and Upali Wickramasinghe who dabbled in distilling spirits throughout his professional career which included a long stint at Gilbeys. Ironically, Mike chose to decline the University offer of admission to the Science Faculty and joined A. Baur and Company as a Medical Representative straight from school. Lakshman (Lakhi) Liyanage proceeded to UK at a very young age and blossomed out to qualify in UK as an accountant, ending up his professional career as Chairman of the Organisation for Tourism and Hospitality Management in Great Britain. Like Mike, Ranjit Santiago left Ceylon "for good" after a short spell in the private sector. Now well settled in Connecticut, USA, he is a former Director of Marketing at Bayer Pharmaceuticals in USA and retired as an international consultant to the Dutch pharmaceutical company Akzo-Nobel. Being the last member of the e-mail group, the writer makes up the lot and he himself qualified to enter the Colombo Medical Faculty of the University of Ceylon based on the results of the same UE examination.

Though scattered in different parts of the globe, even with the loss of Founder Mike Udabage, the remaining five have continued to correspond with each other as a group. Lakhi Liyanage has made England his permanent home. As stated before, Ranjit Santiago lives in retirement in the US. For the most part of each year, Daya Wickramatunga lives in Australia, but prefers to spend the Australian winters in Sri Lanka. Only Upali Wickramasinghe and the writer presently live in Sri Lanka, although the latter had lived abroad for several years before returning home "for good" in 2009.

Electronic communication knows no boundaries and e-mails on varied subjects were reaching recipients from senders with our inboxes being filled and emptied daily. If there is prolonged silence from an individual due to some reason, the rest of us begin to wonder and hasten to inquire. We engage in heated debates and fierce arguments, but not with any anger or malice. We write on anything under the sun – current affairs, local and international politics, sports, music etc. You name it and it is there. Most importantly, the constant dialogue keeps us all occupied just like Mike, who was in perfect control of all his faculties until the bitter end. However, although we have carried on all these years, the absence of Mike is sorely felt.

My personal opinion as a medical doctor is that even after retirement, a person should keep himself or herself occupied with the brain functioning actively. This is where non professional interests (like sports) and hobbies (like music) come in. Sudden retirement without any of them is a disaster waiting to happen. Keeping in touch with old friends either through electronic mail or other means, is definitely one way in which the brain can be exercised optimally. There lies the key to staving off dementias including the dreaded and much talked about Alzheimer’s disease.

In conclusion, let me throw in a few more examples of how old ties can be maintained. As stated before, Anandian contemporaries of our era have been having "get-togethers" and other events from time to time. Apart from being involved in the affairs of the Ananda Old Boys Association, Senior Old Anandians Association and the Old Anandians Sports Club, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the publication "Anandaya – the first 125 Years" by the OBA to commemorate 125 years of Ananda. It was held at the Faculty of Graduate Studies of the University of Colombo on March 28 and provided yet another opportunity to meet and greet old friends from school days.

In the same way, we have been able to keep our medical school batch together. I still maintain a blog that I started in 2011 as part of the build up towards our 2012 Reunion held to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of our entry to the Colombo Medical Faculty. We have just concluded the 50th Anniversary Batch Reunion (to mark 50 years since graduation) which was held at Jetwing Blue Hotel in Negombo. The Colombo Medschool Alumni Association (CoMSAA) holds the annual sessions and get-together in September of each year.

Yet another social gathering of Old Anandians of my era will be held on June 2, 3 and 4 this year. Dr. Ranjith Hettiarachchi of Melbourne has taken the lead in putting together the event, proving yet again that electronic communication can do much in organizing such events and staying in touch with old friends.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

An appreciation from Harsha.

On 23 April 2017 at 11:37, Dr. Harsha Samarajiwa <harshasam@sltnet.lk> wrote:

My dear Lucky,

A belated Big Thank you from both of us, to all in the organizing committee for arranging a wonderful week-end in Negombo.

I would like to sincerely thank all my mates from the 62 Group, classmates, friends and patients who sent get well prayers, cards, calls, for a quick recovery. I feel very humbled, and happy about the concern expressed. Looking forward to the next re-union. I felt very disappointed that I missed the Big Match celebrations, but meeting our Group was ample compensation.

I am only hoping that I can get back to Medicine and my patients soon.

Warm Regards to all,

Harsha.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Creative Spot by Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale


Hope lingers on..

The balloon of Hope
Filled with expectation
Rose in the sky of uncertainty
Worlds collided
Past met present
Souls cast asunder
Floating in space
Reaching out, reaching out
Grasping, probing, groping
A hand! A hand!
Fingers outstretched
Grasped gratefully
Linked together
A tenuous hold
Drifting, drifting
Drifting together
Closer together?
A world in suspense

Hope lingers on…

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Creative Spot by Zita Perera Subasinghe



Dalliance with Death

You puzzle me! You fascinate me!
You terrify me! You infuriate me!
You took my gran my dad my mother
Then you took uncle, aunt and brother

You never did come back to tell me
Did they send a message to give me?
Did they suffer at your cold hands?
Or rejoice of going to their new lands?

Were they sad to give up life?
Was it like cutting with a knife?
Did they think of years past?
About the end were they aghast?

They planned a lot, for The Future
So many projects they would nurture
Right through their worldly sojourn
The End! For that they didn’t yearn

So! Tell me Death, tell me please
This is not the time to tease
A person who you’ll soon befriend
To take her to that unknown end

What is that last moment like?
When final hour the clock does strike?
Tell me cos I’m not afraid!
Final plans I’ve long since laid

Your job is to keep me calm
Against all pain, you are my balm
With Family, you’ve got to be clever
They expect I’ll live forever

You make things, seem oh so final
It’s a shame to have fear primal
It’s only if we Live, we Die
So, in fact why should one cry?


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Earth.... our only home

Sent in by Cyril Ernest. Embellished by Mahendra Gonsalkorale

I think most of us know Carl Sagan, American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science populariser, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences, born in 1934 died in 1996.  This is the script of the video.

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.” 
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.







Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Creative Spot by Indra Anandasabapathy

Still life with sunflowers - oil on canvas 

Indra's wife Rani at work

Finished product

Sunday, April 9, 2017

My memories of the General Hospital Colombo and some of its personalities.

By Nihal D. Amerasekera


Kynsey Road entrance (from within GHC) with Koch Clock Tower and Medical Faculty in the background

Kynsey Road entrance from outside




Central Blood Bank - ND's  old workplace 


One of the long corridors, GHC in 2012

Lawn near Merchants Ward in 2012

My first encounter with the General Hospital Colombo was as a patient age 7. Having a tonsillectomy wasn’t a pleasant experience for a child. I have written about it in this blog calling it my ‘Tryst with Destiny’. (http://colombomedgrads1962.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=tryst)

My future experiences with the GHC were much more pleasant. Three of those years (1964-67) were as a student burning the midnight oil and a further 4 years (1970-74) as a doctor. It was much later I had the time to delve into its rich heritage, its glorious past and the colourful personalities that made the institution great.

As I look back I have tremendous affection for the GHC. It was my medical school, university and workshop where I learnt my trade. This note is not only a tribute to my former teachers but is also an appreciation of the efforts of the many who helped to plan and build this magnificent hospital. The General Hospital Colombo will always remain as a permanent monument to all those have worked in this institution since its early days. They all have done it proud.

Colombo’s first modern hospital was established in 1819 in Prince Street Pettah.  The 100 bed hospital soon became overcrowded and the decision was taken to build a new hospital away from the dust and grime of the fast expanding Pettah. In 1864 Governor Henry George Ward set aside a princely sum of £3000 and acquired the land around Longden Place. This area has been a cinnamon plantation since the Dutch occupation. Soon a hospital was built on this site for the people. The government recognised the need for doctors and a Colombo Medical School was established in 1870 in a female surgical ward. This moved to its present home in 1875 helped by the philanthropy of Mudaliyar Samson Rajapakse, who owned the land. De Soysa Lying-in Home was built in 1879 by the donations of a well known philanthropist Sir Charles Henry De Soysa. Lady Havelock Hospital was started in 1885 later named Lady Ridgeway Hospital. Victoria Memorial Eye hospital opened in 1903 with the money donated by Muhandiram N.S. Fernando and the OPD started in 1910. The ‘White House’ is the magnificent building that meets the eye when one enters the GHC through the Kynsey Road entrance. That was the old administration block which was commissioned in 1904. It also housed many wards in the upper floors. The present 5- storey administration complex was built by SWRD Bandaranaike in 1958 and has several wards, operating theatres and sterilisation units. A private home in Ward place was commissioned to become the Dental Institute. The Radiology Department began in the administration block in 1925. Dr. William R. Kynsey was the Principal Civil Medical Officer from 1875 to 1897.  He contributed much towards the Ceylon Medical College in its formative years. In 1900 The long road between the Colombo Cemetery and the GHC was named after Dr Kynsey.

Many of the private wards were built to serve the British. William Henry Figg donated the money to build the Merchants’ Ward which was opened by Governor Manning in 1918. It  was an impressive ornate building with an elegant porch, high ceilings and manually driven lift. This and the Seamens’ ward, Planters’ Ward, Skinner- Gnanasekeram ward and Matapan ward were for private patients. In later years at the east end of the main east-west corridor was the house officers quarters in the old  ‘White House’ and at the west end was the Ragama section of medical wards. Those wards were airy and basic with rattan slats to prevent rain beating in during the monsoon storms. To the north and south of the main corridor were the surgical wards. As I haven’t visited the hospital in nearly 40 years I have used the past tense in my descriptions not knowing how much has changed.

When the GHC had difficulty in recruiting nurses, the government requested the services of the nuns of the order of Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.  They began work in the wards in 1886 and lived in St Peter’s House in view of the ward later managed by Professor Rajasuriya.  The nuns served in the great tradition of Florence Nightingale showing tremendous compassion for the sick and the suffering. They provided excellent care to the patients.  I recall seeing them working all hours in the hospital. Their services were discontinued in 1964. Sadly they made a hurried exit from the island being caught up in the wave of nationalism that swept the country after independence. Since the Nurses Training College was established in 1939 we had our home-grown nurses who were excellent and filled the void with great skill and expertise.

To all medical students of the Colombo faculty, crossing Kynsey road to start clinical work is happiness beyond belief. This brought an end to the ceaseless study of the theoretical basis of medicine, or so we thought. Now we were expected to be civilised as ladies and gentleman. This wasn’t an easy transformation for many. Armed with an Allan and Hanbury stethoscope and a knee hammer I had a spring in my step as I crossed the road to enter the hospital.  Although I hoped that traffic will stop for me to help me save a life I had no such luck!! All through my clinical years I may have covered a few hundred miles on the long corridors that crisscrossed the grounds of the hospital. Friendships were made and firmed during those ceaseless journeys. The images of the buildings, lawns and the hordes of students, doctors and nurses that thronged the corridors are still etched deep in my memory.

After the University of Ceylon was established in 1942 the GHC became its teaching hospital in 1946. We honour its original teaching staff, Professors Milroy Paul, PB Fernando and GAW Wickremasuriya in Surgery, Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynaecology respectively. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.

The 1960’s was the golden era of medical education in Sri Lanka. The visiting physicians and surgeons who served the hospital were clinically some of the best in the world. The orthopaedic surgeon Francis Silva was a Hunterian lecturer, a prestigious award conferred by the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Professor K. Rajasuriya was a Registrar at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London when very few foreign doctors were allowed in its precincts. The physicians and surgeons took on the task of tutoring students seriously and gave of their best. We benefitted enormously from their clinical skills and teaching. Despite their busy schedule of ward rounds, clinics and private practice they found time to teach us clinical methods. They took great trouble to find interesting patients with multiple clinical problems.  I was mesmerised by their formidable powers of analysis, mastery of detail and ability to penetrate to the core of a complex problem.

Every medical student maintained a little yellow book of the lectures and appointments they had to complete. There were several 2 month medical and surgical appointments and numerous ward classes where we were taught clinical medical and surgical skills. They were committed to make certain we learnt our trade well before being released on the general public. Many of the clinical visiting staff gave us the impression they were invincible and wielded great power. Their wards were their kingdom which they ruled with an iron fist. It seemed to us they never got on well with each other perhaps due to professional rivalry or their enormous ego. Many never believed in 2nd opinions or took kindly to their diagnoses being questioned. Some of their teaching methods depended on creating an aura of fear. In the process they humiliated students and at times reduced them to tears. Having said all that It would not be fair to judge our former teachers with the attitudes and values of the 21st century. I still have a deep sense of gratitude to all of them.

Darrel Weinman, the neurosurgeon, was a superb teacher. He had a special room for his ward classes which was always full to capacity. He was a showman ‘par excellence’ and taught us the whole process from history taking to examination, diagnosis and treatment  with great aplomb. He was a kind man. It was a sad loss to Sri Lanka and to medical education to see him give up neurosurgery to become a GP in Australia. In the same breath I recall the teaching of George Ratnavale. His teaching and tutorials were master-classes in clinical neurology. The surgeons who constantly deal with blood and guts had a macho image. Prof Navaratne, was a notable exception. He was a kind person and never showed anger to his students. We were never terrorized or intimidated by him. Dr Austin commanded and demanded respect as if it was his divine right. He took great trouble to teach us well. Dr Anthonis showed kindness to his patients and was such a fine teacher. He was well known for his interesting anecdotes supposedly from real life.  Dr Niles had a volatile temper towards his patients but was kind to us all and was a fine tutor. His clinical classes were full of humour. He had this great ability to see the funny side of day to day clinical problems. Dr K.G Jayasekera had a fearsome exterior but taught us well. Dr DF De S Gunawardene was a kind man who spoke softly and was a great teacher. I am ever so grateful to the Visiting Physicians of the Ragama section of the GHC for teaching me medicine. Dr Wijenaike, Dr O.R Medonza, Dr D.J Attygalle, Dr Ernie Peiris  and Professors K Rajasuriya and R.P Jayawardene were excellent teachers. Dr Peiris had a subtle and sophisticated sense of humour. Once a pretty girl from my batch presented an interesting clinical case in a rather soft tone and people standing at the rear could hardly hear. Dr Peiris named her whispering pectoriloquy. Many of the clinicians called the students out for  dinner with drinks at the end of the appointments. Those were wonderful and memorable occasions. My first clinical appointment as a medical student was with Dr Thanabalasundrum. In that firmament of shining stars Dr. T  was the one that shone the brightest. In the De Soysa maternity hospital Professor Ranasinghe was a great teacher but had a quick temper. Dr Viswanathan was greatly loved by the students for his friendly manner and excellent tutorials. In the Lady Ridgeway Hospital Professors CC De Silva and Priyani Soysa were excellent teachers as was Dr Stella De Silva. I remember Dr W.J Gomes who took great care to teach us the basics of paediatrics.

The 2-month clinical appointments were invaluable tutorials. In those days the pathological investigations and radiology were pretty basic and much depended on the history taking, clinical observations and examination. Those basic clinical methods we learnt from our teachers. It makes me shudder when I see the 2 line histories on patient’s notes nowadays. Now so much depends on the scans and other investigations when they can get to the diagnosis faster without breaking into a sweat.

Interns, SHO’s and Registrars ran the hospital with the expert advice and supervision of the Visiting clinical staff. Doctors worked from 8am to 12 and 3pm to 5. Interns life was never easy clerking patients and doing the onerous on-call duties. The SHO’s supervised the interns and were 2nd on-call. The registrars were occasionally called in but the Visiting physicians and surgeons were never called after 5pm except perhaps in surgery. The registrars oversaw the work of the juniors and presented the patients to the Visiting physicians and surgeons on ward rounds. All this seemed to proceed seamlessly and like clockwork. The junior doctors lived in the hospital quarters within the GHC or in Violet Cottage or Regent House. It was such great fun living together and being an integral part of the GHC community. Life then was good despite the hard grind. We played cricket in the back garden. There was never a shortage of alcohol and chit chat in the evening and at weekends.

The GHC in those distant days had 3000 beds and at least 500 patients sleeping on corridors on mats and at the far end of the wards. As students we scoured the wards day after day in our endless search for ‘good case’ until we completed the final examination. Whenever there was a ‘good case’ that patient was questioned and prodded endlessly until they got weary and grumpy. The Patients too were a cross section of Sri Lankan society. Some understood our plight and complied. Others were annoyed and refused to take part in the ritual. The majority submitted without question. A few even saw the benefit of a thorough examination done by several would be ‘doctors’.

It is only when one works in the hospital one becomes aware of its soft underbelly. Most of its patients were poor and many were from far away villages. To them hospitals were unknown places synonymous with hopelessness, heartache and suffering. They were fearful of doctors and operations. There were unscrupulous and deceitful people who preyed on these gullible and vulnerable patients and their relatives promising accommodation, better treatment or even help to become private patients to get privileged care. Many were duped into parting with their cash. The undertakers too had their henchmen like vultures riding the thermals and descending on the terminally ill and the bereaved touting for business.

My final fling with the GHC was in 1973/74 when I was a Registrar to Dr U.S Jayawickreme. He took over the ward from Dr W Wijenaike. Dr USJ was a fine clinician and a dignified gentleman. Always immaculately dressed he showed tremendous kindness to his patients and to the staff. In turn he received great loyalty and enormous respect. He showed us how to conduct ourselves calmly and with dignity in the ward. His patients adored him. His work ethic and bedside manner had a tremendous impact on me. That was a fine finale for my clinical years at the GHC.

The General Hospital Colombo became the National Hospital of Sri Lanka in 1995. It now serves the people from cradle to grave. With a compassionate and caring staff and its fascinating history it will always remain at the forefront of healthcare in Sri Lanka and close to my heart for evermore.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

More on whales - Super pods of sperm whales put on marine spectacle

From the Sunday Times of April 2nd, 2017.

Super pods of sperm whales put on marine spectacle

News

Super pods of sperm whales put on marine spectacle

View(s): 885

The eight-strong orca pod get ready to charge towards the sperm whales. Pix courtessy Andrew Sutton
While observing a super pod of nearly 100 sperm whales, marine mammal expert Ranil Nanayakkara witnessed a rare occasion when killer whales attacked the marine giants in the seas off Kalpitiya. It was an epic battle.
Sri Lanka is famous for wildlife spectacles such as this along with the largest gathering of Asian elephants, huge pods of blue whales and rare sightings of leopards.
One spectacle in the making is super pods of sperm whales (physeter microcephalus). The sperm while is the largest ‘toothed whale’ which can dive to depths of 3,200 feet in search of its favourite food – the giant squid. Female sperm whales and their calves live in pods of 15-20 members, while males tend to roam alone in cooler waters closer to polar regions. A super pod of whales is formed when such smaller pods gather for feeding, socialising or mating. March to April seems to be the time such super pods form and in 2012 the largest such gathering consisting of over 100 individuals was recorded.
Marine biologist Ranil Nanayakkara who has studied the sperm whale super pods from 2010, left Kalpitiya shores on March 23 to scan the ocean specially for sperm whales. It turned out to be their lucky day when they witnessed the sperm whale super pod about 15 nautical miles from Kalpitiya at 9.15 am after travelling for about one hour. “There were over 150 sperm whales on the ocean of around one kilometre. The super pod we saw consisted of 50 to 60 individuals,’’ Nanayakkara said.
Together with Ranil, British author Philip Hoare and photographer Andrew Sutton were on the boat and it was a show of a life time. The larger sperm whale males had joined the super pod and they witnessed love making on a massive scale. The team witnessed foreplay — rubbing against each other, tail slapping, spy hopping, rolling over. Even researchers could see the animals’ aroused genitals and as they watched, a pair swam belly to belly under the boat.
The sperm whale is also famous for making sounds. It makes the loudest sounds of any animal and also emits morse-like “codas” used to communicate long distances. The sea is full of sound as well and Nanayakkara was listening to these codas using special ear phones.
The ocean was like an opera, said Nanayakkara.
A large male sperm whale that came to rescue the weaker pod
They observed a large male deviate from the super pod and swim rapidly northward. “When a sperm whale swims fast, its large head stays out of the water – so we could clearly say it was in a great hurry. Then several other large males started following the first one. Seeing several large male sperm whales moving northward we thought it could be an aggression related to mating, so we followed them,” Nanayakkara explained.
After travelling two or three kilometres, the team found the large males with a pod of about 10 females with younger whales. The males packed their bodies tightly and it was like several logs stacked tightly. The men in the boat also saw something else. One person in the boat alerted the others to a dolphin but to their surprise it was the unmistakable dorsal fin of an orca. The sperm whales had rushed to protect the pod that came under attack by the orcas.
The black and white orca (orcinus orca), is a mid-sized toothed whale. it is the largest member of the dolphin family and became a popular after being featured in the movie ‘Free Willy’. But the orca is not an innocent animal as it is an agile predator in the ocean also known as the ‘killer whale’.
“It was a pod of about eight orcas attacking a weaker maternity pod. The large males would have heard the distress call and had rushed to protect them. The males packed their bodies side by side tightly guarding the weaker whales from the predatory orcas,” Nanayakkara said. The water around the smaller pod was cloudy with orangish whale poop – a defense mechanism used by the distressed whales to conceal themselves from the predators.
Killer whale attacks on other whales have been reported on a handful of occasions previously. Working as a team, they usually challenge the weaker female or a calf to hunt it down. According to Nanayakkara, the orcas found in our waters is transient and they are born hunters.
“We had also observed an amazing communal defense mechanism used by the sperm whales where the males encircle the weaker females and young putting their bodies in front of the attacking killer whales,” Nanayakkara said. This is a known as the “marguerite formation”, named after the shape of the flower by that name. In this formation, the heavy and powerful tail of an adult whale is pointed outward, readying to deliver lethal blows to any incoming attacker.
Ranil Nanayakkara Listening to the songs of sperm whales
The researchers also experienced a somewhat scary experience. Since the marguerite formation was not effective, the whales started using the boat as a cover to avoid the orcas. They moved to the other side of the boat when the orcas charged and a collision could have been dangerous.
This ‘battle of the titans’ dragged on for more than an hour. The sperm whales finally made the orcas give up. Nanayakkara said there were about 20 killer whales at that time and it could also be the largest orca pod seen in Sri Lankan waters.
Nanayakkara said it was one of the amazing moments he had witnessed in his whole life.
Know the sperm whaleThe head of the whale contains a liquid wax called spermaceti, from which the whale derives its name. Spermaceti was used in lubricants, oil lamps, and candles. Scientists have yet to understand its function, but believe it may help the animal regulate its buoyancy. Some also believe that the spermaceti has bio-acoustical amplification properties, enabling the whale to produce the loudest sounds of any animal.Mature males average 16 metres (52 ft) in length but some may reach 20.5 metres (67 ft), with the head representing up to one-third of the animal’s length. Capable of plunging to 2,250 metres (7,382 ft), it is the second deepest diving mammal, following only the Cuvier’s beaked whale. The sperm whale’s clicking vocalisation, a form of echolocation and communication, may be as loud as 230 decibels under water. The sperm whale has the largest brain of any animal on Earth, more than five times heavier than a human’s. Sperm whales can live for more than 60 years according to sources on the Web.Ambergris, a waste product from its digestive system, is still used as a fixative in perfumes.