Saving blue whales from ship-strike in the Indian Ocean!

Latest update March 2, 2015 Started on January 9, 2015

My mission is to reduce blue whale death by ship-strike in the Indian Ocean. I want to use standard survey methods to verify habitat models that tell us where the whales are most at risk from ships, add photos to our Sri Lankan Photo-ID catalog that will enable us to estimate numbers of whales in this unique population, use an OpenROV to investigate areas where whales spend time to see what they might be doing at depth and to see what other species they may interact with, and take all of you - to the mystical Indian Ocean!

January 9, 2015
Expedition's summary cannot exceed 240 characters


Did you know that the National Geographic Society is currently offering Explorers a variety of funding opportunities in the fields of conservation, education, research, storytelling, and technology? To learn more and apply for a grant click here.
If you're not interested in applying for a grant, click continue below
Supported by:

I'm not going to lie, it's been a bit of a challenge to keep posting here, on my blog, and update my Facebook, twitter and Instagram particularly given the limited internet and shortage of time while in the field. I have to say, Instagram became my best friend. Super easy to upload visual stuff and with a catchy caption -- told a nice little story of our adventures. Lot's of lessons learnt this season. The blues were a bit scarce (but this IS nature so....) but I had so many incredible firsts! I saw a feeding blue, feeding Bryde's, whale shark... and surface swarms of tiny shrimp-like creatures!! As a closing post, I want to invite you all to please subscribe to my blog at, follow me on twitter and Instagram @ashadevos and add my Facebook page Browse, read, enjoy and share! To wrap up this season, I just posted this great little video by my intern Holly Wetherall titled 'Good Krill* Hunting' we hope you enjoy and share it because you just might inspire the next generation of ocean heroes!


Here at The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project we are interested in the holistic picture. While our primary study species is the Northern Indian Ocean pygmy blue whale we get excited when we see all marine life, whale poo or even tiny shrimp-like creatures! Here is yet another sneak peek into our fun lives off southern Sri Lanka. I want to thank my 2015 field team for all their fabulous work and great attitude throughout the season, and particularly Holly for putting this little gem together! Through this series of videos (starting in 2013: we try to give you a glimpse into our lives and show you that the world is your oyster, as long as you are fuelled by curiosity! Please enjoy and share - you might help inspire the next generation of ocean heroes :)

Big thanks to the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka for their continuous support and research permits for our work. The 2015 field season was made possible by The Marisla Foundation, Packard Endowment Grant for Science and Technology, The Marine Conservation Action Fund of the New England Aquarium, and all those amazing people who funded us through our OpenExplorer crowd-funding campaign (!


krill hunting! great action shots!

Hey Asha,

Hope all is well! I'm curious. Have you had any neat new findings come out of your studies?

In The Field

My number one mantra to all my students is "when working on the ocean, always expect the unexpected". So far, I've been right every single day! Never more right than two days ago when we were 50 km offshore in 2 m swell and sea state 4 waters. This little fella (6-8 feet) approached us and just hung around our stopped boat for an hour! As it turns out sightings of juvenile whalesharks are rare because no one knows where the pupping grounds are. So location details of sightings like this and any others (we've seen 2 others this season) are super valuable to researchers. No fear, we will be passing on these details to the cool folks at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences. All I have to say for now is - incredible sighting in crystal clear waters ~ so damn lucky! #srilanka 


wow! what a beautiful animal!

My number one mantra to all my students is "when working on the ocean, always expect the unexpected". So far, I've been right every single day! Never more right than two days ago when we were 50 km offshore in 2 m swell and sea state 4 waters. This little fella (6-8 feet) approached us and just hung around our stopped boat for an hour! As it turns out sightings of juvenile whalesharks are rare because no one knows where the pupping grounds are. So location details of sightings like this and any others (we've seen 2 others this season) are super valuable to researchers. No fear, we will be passing on these details to the cool folks at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences. All I have to say for now is - incredible sighting in crystal clear waters ~ so damn lucky! #srilanka 


A few days ago we were cruising around looking for whales when we had an amazing encounter with a feeding mother-calf pair of Bryde's. My jaw was on the floor for the entire time but sadly that moment was shared with about 10-15 whale watch boats as it happened just outside the mouth of the Weligama Bay. I generally avoid the whale watch boats because their hounding behaviours disturb the natural behaviour of the whales and thereby disrupt my research on their 'natural' behaviours. However, sometimes there are moments that are impossible to drive away from and this was definitely one of them. In those instances, we usually hang back and try to keep pace with the animals while not getting in the chaos of the bigger boats. We hope that the big boats will move away sooner rather than later and then we can sit and observe and take notes. While watching these whales feeding voraciously we started to notice swarms of tiny shrimp-like creatures in the water. Given my propensity for collecting things (my research permit from the Department of Wildlife Conservation covers these particular items specifically) we stopped and dropped our very sophisticated scooping device into the water (a tea strainer) to collect a bunch of these little critters. We got some and the swarm quickly dispersed. The excitement on the boat was ridiculous! Everyone was cheering and clapping and that led some of the whale watch boats that had decided to leave to turn right around and come back! It was funny watching people's faces as we told them what we were really up to :)

Now to figure out what these creatures really are! Looking forward to this new adventure at the end of my field season. Super happy with my new (preserved) pets and staying excited for the next big event!


That smile! Excited to hear more about the creatures

Congratulations on your tiny shrimplets!

Thanks for the congrats Erika and David -- I will definitely keep you posted and I will keep smiling THAT smile :)

We've just spent our first ten days on the water and believe it or not, we have seen just two blue whales. For someone who has spent a number of years on these seas, these off years are part of a bigger picture story and they intrigue me. I remember back in 2011 we had a similar situation with few whales in the nearshore areas and some research I was doing at the time showed that the whales were moving further offshore because of excessive rainfall in the preceding months (de Vos A., Pattiaratchi, C.B. and Harcourt R.G. (2014) Inter-annual variation in blue whale distribution off southern Sri Lanka between 2011 and 2012, Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, 2: 534-550. I am not sure what is happening this time around but its interesting nevertheless.

That said, we have had a number of other very cool encounters - we caught some krill, watched Bryde's whales feed and have spotted a number of curious turtles. No complaints, life is good, and in every moment there is a lesson to be learnt. To follow my series on Lessons from the Ocean please visit and subscribe to read more!


Wow! What a sunset! I'm glad to hear your have some marine life, though interesting that there isn't more. I'll be curious to hear if the field season is pretty consistently low, of if it picks up over time. I know you mentioned these are resident whales, so migration patterns on a large scale probably aren't changing, but are their smaller migrations within the local area?

Hey Erika! Actually this is a photo of sunrise. In fact because of where Weligama is situated and the fact that it is a bay, we get to watch both sunrises and sunsets out here. It's pretty amazing! We are hoping the field season will pick up too. Either way, it is interesting though so no complaints! So these whales are resident to the northern Indian Ocean with whales around Sri Lanka all year round...but yes of course they will shift around the island and region depending on where their food sources might be. It's pretty amazing really. The ocean is a huge place and a small shift can mean they are totally gone from a particular area for a bit. The ocean is so mysterious but so very very exciting all the same!

When Ethan Lang walked into my birthday party, he immediately felt like an old friend. He very soon became one of the biggest supporters of my work, sharing the stories, supporting financially and pushing his brother David to tweak this platform in a way that would better support people like myself. He did this with a big cheeky grin and twinkle in his eye.

A few days ago I kickstarted our blue whale field season. The whales appear to be a bit scarce these days but yesterday we saw our first one. It rolled onto its side right in front of our boat and lifted it's flipper out of the water. I didn't manage to capture the moment on camera but I immediately thought of Ethan and I figured there he was, letting us know he was still rooting for us. He will never be forgotten but he will be missed.


Do you know anyone who might be interested in Volunteering with The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project? If yes, please forward this call for applications to them!

Do you use Twitter? Then join the first ever Healthy Oceans Twitter conversation tonight (15th January 2014) at 2pm GMT (9am EST and 6am PST)! Panellists to look out for include myself @ashadevos, Shah Selbe (@shahselbe), Cesar Harada (@cesarharada) and many many more!! It's an opportunity for you to learn and engage with a range of people who truly care about the current state of the oceans.

We will be addressing each of the following topics for 15 minutes each (follow them using the hashtags):
What are the key threats to our oceans?
What are the short and long-term social, economic and environmental consequences of our current activities / business as usual?
What are the key actions that need to take place to change our trajectory? What is your organization currently doing to combat these issues?
What are some innovative models or new partnerships that can accelerate the changes needed?
...and will be available to answer any burning questions!

Throughout the conversation we will be using and hashtags to ensure you can track back the conversation if you would like to learn more! Please spread the word and I hope to see you there in a few hours!


Oh very cool! Sorry I missed the announcement. How did it go?

Powerhouse lineup! They should get you all together more often!

It was awesome! If you missed it, don't panic! Follow the and hashtags on twitter!

Tomorrow my island faces yet another presidential election. It's a little hard to figure out how things will go because everything feels fairly polarised. I am not about to blurb on about my political choices but I do hope that whoever comes into power next, can drag Sri Lanka out of the list of 40 worst funded countries for biodiversity conservation. In fact we are 37th on that list, so not far from the bottom of the world (for more details check Waldron et al., 2013, PNAS). Sadly this is the legacy left behind by generations of politicians who have failed us. What does that say about how much we value our environment? This land is blessed with incredible natural beauty but many take it for granted. In fact this land is blessed with a whole host of things but sadly, when given the choice to cherish or destroy, many choose the latter. Destruction in the name of development, it's a common theme and we all know how that ends.

This month I have been trying to coordinate meetings with relevant government officials in Colombo. It's been interesting as some people may remain or go depending on who comes in to power. Some of the allegiances I have already formed may end up being of no use. So I will start from the very beginning - all over again. Such is life.

But, there truly is no place like home. I am very grateful and proud to be Sri Lankan despite the chaos and madness. I for one hope for a peaceful free and fair election that will support conservation of our environment that will help pave the way for a better future for my people.


It may seem that I talk about whale poo an awful lot ~ i do. Undoubtedly. If you missed my previous National Geographic blog post about my adventures with whale poo, you can read it here:

Today -- I am super excited because my recent TED talk has just gone up and is front page on! It's important because we need more fun science stories out there so people can connect and become more curious and kids can start to see science as an adventure rather than a job till death do us part. It is the obligation of scientists like myself to step out of our ivory towers and do more than talk to other scientists, but in fact to tell the stories that will make people care. I firmly believe that the more people know, the more responsible they start to feel and the more they care. We need to be the change we want to see in the world. Who wants to leave a legacy of destruction after all?

I hope you enjoy this talk and I hope you will help me share it far and wide!

Asha!! This is amazing! Will be sharing widely...

Thanks a million David! and Michael - Yay for reposting!! I am so pleased that its up!

Home is definitely where the heart is.Mine is deeply rooted in this land oozing natural beauty.This morning I did my first two dives of the year, 15 minutes from my home with some of my favourite people.We were brought together by our common love for the ocean and it's mysteries.I hope that future generations will also have the privilege to explore this space and be bonded by its magic for life.To make this a reality, we all need to come together and fight for our oceans, our environment, our heritage.

I posted this on Instagram yesterday (follow me @ashadevos) after two great dives off Dehiwala, Sri Lanka. The sea has finally calmed down and the sun is out after what seems like months of unseasonal rain. Who says there is no such thing as climate change!

The funds have been trickling in and I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to this work. My field season is dependent on all of you :) Because of the impending Presidential election, that is causing some unrest in my little island, and because we are hoping to use the simulations to inform our field season i am postponing my start date to February. That gives me one more month to gather more money and hopefully get out and do some fascinating work!

Feel free to comment on these posts and start a discussion. It's more fun than a monologue! :)


Happy new year! Today I want to introduce you to my friend who is an incredible human being.He has been walking the streets of Colombo for 32 years selling Bombai muttai - our version of candy floss or fairy floss.It's tastier and has more texture and is made fresh everyday.He must walk upwards of 20 km everyday ringing his bell hoping that people will run out of their houses and buy his product.I've been a loyal customer for more than 10 years, partly because the stuff is yummy but mostly because I am humbled by this great example of a true human being.He is my reality check - he makes me realise that I don't know what hard work is, what dedication truly means.So henceforth I am dedicating my work to him and people like him who make me proud to be a human being, who make me proud to be Sri Lankan.Do you know anyone who has inspired you who is an ?Do you have anyone you spend a few moments with and chat to even just to be humbled by their lives?if you live in Colombo and ever see my friend, please buy some tasty BM and salute him for all that he represents.Thank you to all of you for standing with me and supporting me through 2014 - I wish you a 2015 filled with dreams that are bigger than those you ever dreamed you could dream! #2015


Excited to be home and preparing for my field season. So much to do – raise funds, hire a boat, get out on the water, do science and get as many people involved as possible! As a newbie to crowd-funding and the use of platforms like this it's quite amazing to see the number of followers grow and the number of contributors increase. I would love for more people to join the ranks and be part of this work to resolve a global problem!

I am so grateful for everything life has given me so far, in fact I feel blessed. All of you play a key role in keeping me going and I want to thank you. With that I want to wish you all a Whaley Merry Christmas! Don’t forget to be grateful for the little things, to enjoy the journey and laugh! We are so lucky to be alive! Xx


Michael! Thank you so much for your kind words and your contribution! More troops would be amazing and I'm always looking for good people like yourself to spread the word so thank you! Hope the new year brings us all including our planet, a lot if wonderful things!

My latest blog on National Geographic is up and ready for your eyes! It’s all about whale poo – why I am so fascinated by it, what it tells us and why it is important! I promise you, its lots of fun (and contains a video!)

Through it I also challenge scientists to send in pictures of the scats of their study species because I think i work with the :)

The world is too beautiful to overlook these little (butt) nuggets – portals into a different world! Let's explore explore explore!


Gross. So fantastic Asha. Perhaps it can be used to raise funds:

Erika - don't poo-poo poo! I think its absolutely fabulous stuff :)

I was thinking cosmetics, but these CAH guys are off the charts!

The rainstorm left behind these beautiful iridescent rainbows all over the ground at the rental car company. While they are pretty, this oily mix of motor oil, gasoline, brake fluid and antifreeze is a big polluter of our waterways. Takes my thoughts to the Sundarbans mangrove forest (a UNESCO world heritage site) in Bangladesh that is struggling through an oil spill right now. What happened? Two vessels collided dumping hundred of litres of furnace oil into the water. The oil has now spread over a 350 square kilometre area and things aren't looking good.

The Sundarbans are home to two rare river dolphin species - the Ganges and Irawaddy dolphins. River dolphins struggle at the best of times because they live in areas of high human use. The consequences of this event are slowly unfolding. How is this relevant? Our dependency on ship traffic continues to grow as do the threats that come with it. Makes me wonder how we can and must change the way we interact with nature.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave comments and let's start an important conversation!


Beautiful and terrifying. Of course oil spills are a horrible and unfotunately inevitiable occurance as we are so dependant on shipping.

However, On a smaller, individual, scale I think things as simple as taking your car to the car wash need a lot more publicity. The water from a car wash is processed and cleaned before being dumped. Unfotunately in places like Miami (sorry but true) everyone loves shiney cars and business is booming for mobile car washing operations where an individual comes and cleans them in driveways. The oily, bilgy runoff flows directly to sea through storm drains.

It would be so easy to fix, if only there was a campaign to educate people about such simple thing.

Erika -- that's such an interesting suggestion so thank you for sharing. You are right, much of the time, people do thinks through lack of knowledge. This is why it's important for people who study these areas make an effort to get the word out beyond just the scientific community.
And yes, the increase in global ship traffic is all of our fault. We are ALL to blame but never say never. Maybe one of our future ocean heroes will come up with a cleaner more degradable fuel, or a way to prevent collision with whales, or any number of things. Kids just need to be empowered to realise they can!

YES!!! If you contribute, please send me an email to!
I want to say thank you ~ so here's a taster of what lies in store!

$1.00 - $1,000,000.00 - Your name will be listed on our blog under 'donors' (check out the awesome list of people)! (

$35.00 - A postcard of a photo taken during one of our field seasons in Sri Lanka

$200.00 - An exclusive t-shirt from the Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project with a handwritten postcard

$500.00 - Adopt a blue whale! We will send you a photograph of the whale that you adopted with all relevant metadata

$1,700.00 - Exclusive gift for students of marine biology! Join the expedition for a month in Sri Lanka (gift is exclusive of transport to the field site)

$3,000.00 - Fly out to Sri Lanka and join me on the water for a day. Learn what we do and experience it first hand! (gift exclusive of flights and accommodation in Sri Lanka)

$10,000.00 - Come join us for a week on the water (gift exclusive of flights and accommodation in Sri Lanka)

All gifts will be dispatched on a quarterly basis (if you donate now -- look out for your gift in March 2015)


Ooo, relevant metadata...What kind of information are you collecting? Is there a way to approximate a whale's age?

The metadata includes things like - where the whale was sighted, what time, what the weather was like at the time, whether the whale was alone or with a buddy, how it was behaving and anything else we can garner from that moment. It's not really possible to approximate age from one picture, but if we are able to collect pictures of the same whale over a number of years --- then that does become more possible!

Stay tuned! I'm going to announce prizes for different levels of donors very shortly! :)

Here's some exciting news!

The editors at “The Why Files,” a national science education site in the US coordinated by the University of Wisconsin, will be publishing Nsikan Akpan‘s video on my work! Nsikan is a science writer who has had his work published in the likes of Science mag and Scientific American and is a former Science Communication student at The University of California Santa Cruz.

Click here to watch the video:

Check out The Why Files here:


It's stunning how much of the surface of the planet we cover, and still have no idea what is happening below us. Congrats on moving that video around, it's an amazing piece!!

Thanks Erika -- It truly is amazing that our knowledge of the vast majority of our planet is next to nothing. We can change that! :)

Here's some exciting news!

The editors at “The Why Files,” a national science education site in the US coordinated by the University of Wisconsin, will be publishing Nsikan Akpan‘s video on my work! Nsikan is a science writer who has had his work published in the likes of Science mag and Scientific American and is a former Science Communication student at The University of California Santa Cruz.

Check out The Why Files here:


Great piece about my collaboration with OpenRov and OpenExplorer in WIRED today!

I admit....I bungled up and didn't post the livestream link for TEDxVictoria on time. Bummed because I would have liked to have had all of you in the audience. Hopefully the talk will make it online sooner rather than later so I can share it with you all. The best part was that my talk was followed one by David Lang (and I assume you all know who HE is :) ).

If you are interested in learning a bit more about me and my journey, please watch this talk from TEDxMonterey that I did earlier this year:

For more videos and articles about my work please visit:

Asha this is amazing! A Live stream would have been a neat link, we'll make it a priority for your next TEDx! But for now, keep being cool whale lady.

Thanks Erika! It was definitely cool in Victoria :) Was so happy to share more on my adventures. But more to come so stay glued on !

Happy birthday to me!

The sad news is that according to WWF's Living Planet Report at least 50% of vertebrate population sizes have declined in my lifetime +10 years thanks to our our carelessness ( That's a scary thought and I am committed to doing everything I can to save what we have left.

The good news is, since the launch of this page two days ago, I have raised enough to spend one day on the water doing research - that's such a great start!

If you believe in my mission, I ask you to consider contributing and spread the word! Let me take you on an adventure where I bring science and outreach together to try to make a better planet not just for us, but for our future generations.

Thank you!


Thank you!! Well I am fundraising to get out on the water in January 2015 so working hard to spread the word. Thank you for your kind words Dorian and hope you enjoy following this expedition as it unfolds!

Expedition Background

Welcome to the adventure! (and I hope you enjoyed the fabulous New York Times video created by Erik Olsen)

Why are they UNORTHODOX?

Well, this unique population of blue whales does not migrate to polar waters to feed but instead feeds, breeds and calves in warm tropical waters. This is unusual but some recent research shows that the waters off the southern coast of Sri Lanka are relatively productive largely because of its unique situation in the semi-enclosed northern Indian Ocean. To read more on that work click here: Apart from their non-migratory lifestyle, these whales speak a different dialect to blue whales in other ocean basins, are about 20 feet shorter than their Antarctic counterparts (who can grow to about 100 feet) and display different behaviours to other populations. To learn a bit more about some of these unusual behaviours check out this publication:

The availability of food and warm tropical waters makes it sound like the most idyllic place to live. Unfortunately, these waters are also home to one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The shipping lanes support traffic from the east to the west of the northern Indian Ocean; think Singapore to Dubai, two of the busiest ports in the world! Sadly, this means that a number of whales get hit by ships and killed, making it the number one threat to this population in our waters. The photograph you see (Thanks to Sopaka Karunasundara, a friend of The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project is of a blue whale that came wrapped on the bow of a container ship into the harbour in Colombo in March 2012. Twelve days later, we found another carcass with evidence of ship strike floating at sea. I believe that this is just a fraction of the individuals who get hit and killed in this manner given that most carcasses either sink or get pushed offshore and go undocumented.

While it might seem like doom and gloom, I want you to know that this threat is resolvable. Shipping lanes occur in very specific areas of the ocean, and only in a part of the blue whale's range. If we can identify areas where food, whales and ships overlap, we can explore options for reducing this threat. At the moment, we are building computer models to look at our options, but to ensure that our simulations are realistic I need to get out on the water and do more field surveys from January-March 2015. I also need to take lots of photos of the diagnostic features of these whales so that we can include them in the Sri Lankan Blue Whale Photo-ID catalog.

With your help, we can definitely make a difference!

Here's how you can support the expedition;

Please consider donating to these efforts through this page:
* Boat rentals: Boats are expensive and hiring them costs a minimum of $350 dollars per day (we anticipate 40 days of boat time)
* Survival: Food, accommodation and snacks for the team as we spend long days on the water costs about $1400 per month
* Building a platform for citizen scientists to contribute images to the photo-ID catalog: $2000
* Funding to purchase satellite AIS (Automatic Identification System) data that will help us to track ship movements in this area. One year of this data costs as much as $8,000!!!!

I hope to raise a minimum of $20,000 in the next month so we can kickstart this important expedition before it is too late. Every drop counts!

* If you know any yachts or other ships of opportunity that might be travelling to that part of the ocean, who might like to help out with a really important conservation issue - please connect me!
* Similarly, If you know any companies that would like to donate satellite AIS data to the project - connect me!

I also hope you will help share my story by spreading the word via all forms of Social Media using the hashtag (for Sri Lankan blue whales), and follow the adventure RIGHT HERE!

I am excited to be able to take you on my journey to the heart of the Indian Ocean and look forward to your support!


This is absolutely incredible! For such an astounding issue I'm astonished that this is the first time I've heard of this. You are making such an impact, I look forward to helping in every way possible, and following along!

Thank you Erika! We underestimate the importance of nature to our lives and I can use all the help I can get!! Looking forward to meeting you too!

Thank you Erik! Means a lot to have your support given your incredible work!! Looking forward to a BRCK collaboration soon :)

Contribute to this expedition

Email Address
Number card
Postal Code

Review Your Contribution

You have chosen to contribute to expedition.

Confirm your details:

  • Name:

  • Email:

  • Last 4 digits:

Click below to proceed.

Thank You for Your Contribution!

Fundraising Details:


Tell us how raising these funds will impact your expedition
You're almost there, we just need to know three more things:
Is any part or component of your project funded by the National Geographic Society or a National Geographic Society Grant?
Is anyone on your expedition/project team affiliated, either currently or in the past, with the National Geographic Society?
Did you apply for a grant/funding from the National Geographic Society for this project?
You have a goal to raise by for:
How will raising these funds impact your expedition?
Is any part or component of your project funded by the National Geographic Society or a National Geographic Society Grant?
You’ve responded:
Is anyone on your expedition/project team affiliated, either currently or in the past, with the National Geographic Society?
You’ve responded:
Did you apply for a grant/funding from the National Geographic Society for this project?
You’ve responded:

Thank You

Fundraising is almost live!
Thank you for applying to collect contributions! We will review your request and follow up with next steps via email.
Feel free to email us if you have any questions.