The Kalpitiya area is a treasure trove of marine, land and bird life including four types of dolphins, five types of whales, and the very rare and shy dugongs (only found in this part of Sri Lanka). The peninsula's natural attractions consist of a bar reef which is home to the island's most beautiful corals, flat coastal plains, saltpans, mangrove swamps, salt marshes and vast sand dunes.
The Wilpattu National Park is a short drive away (one and a half hours) and is the island's largest nature reserve. Home to three of Sri Lanka's Big Five, it has the greatest concentration of the beautiful leopard, and shelters the majestic elephant and shy sloth bear. The nearby Anavilundava Bird Sanctuary, Nawadankulama Tank and salt marshes of the Puttalam lagoon are home to many of the island's rich avian fauna, and also a large number of migratory bird species.
The Sri Lankan elephant, a distinct sub-species of the mainland Asian elephants of India and Thailand, is the easiest of the Big 5 to see, with several established "elephant safaris" available in most wildlife parks. Its contrasting gentle demeanor and indomitable size has made the gentle-giant a much-loved wildlife icon the world over and although as many as 10, 000 of them roamed Sri Lanka at the turn of the century, only about 5,000 live in the wild today. This is largely due to the "Human Elephant Conflict" (HEC) that leaves about 150-200 elephants dying each year, leading to the classification of the elephant as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List.
Possibly the largest animal that ever lived, growing up to some 33 meters long and weighing up to some 150-180 metric tons, blue whale live individually or in very small pods, frequently swimming in pairs. In Sri Lanka, whale watching was first mooted in the 1980s following the documentation of whale sightings (blue whales and sperm whales) in Trincomalee. Later, more frequents sightings of resident and migratory whales (crossing over to the Arabian Sea from the Bay of Bengal) in Kalpitiya and the West Coast has made whale watching extremely popular in Sri Lanka. The seas off Kalpitiya are also home to very large pods of dolphin, which are best seen from November to April, when seas re calm.
The Sperm Whale is a "toothed whale" and has teeth on its lower jaw. It feeds on fish and other animals such as squid which inhabit deep water. Sperm Whales are known to be the deepest diving whales going to depths of two kilometers or more. It can also hold its breath for over an hour. The front of its head (the melon) is filled with hollow tubes which contains an oil known as "spermaceti". They were hunted for the 'spermaceti' which was used as a lubricant. Early whalers mistook this for sperm, which gave the Sperm Whale its name.
The Sperm Whale's blow is small and bushy relative to that of the blue whale. The blow hole of the Sperm Whale is slanted at a forward facing angle to the left of its body. This produces a characteristically angled and forward directed blow. But at a distance the slanting of the blow is not always apparent. However the blow of a Blue Whales always rises as a tall column and its height is more easily observed at a distance.
The top predator in Sri Lanka, the leopard is found in all types of forests – from thorn scrub and dry deciduous forests, to lowland rain forests and mountain forests. Research in 1996 led to the Sri Lankan leopard being classified as a separate sub species, having being considered to be the same as the Indian subspecies until then. Weighing 37-90 kg for males and 28-60 kg for females, the leopard is affected in Sri Lanka by habitat loss and poaching, and is now listed as a threatened species by IUCN (2007).
The Sri Lankan Sloth Bear is the only species of bear found in Sri Lanka and like the elephant, is a distinct subspecies to the Indian species. The wild population of the Sloth is little as 1,000 in many isolated areas, although it is only classified as "vulnerable" (IUCN Red List). Destruction of dry-zone natural forest is the main threat to its livelihood. The sloth bear is the most elusive of the Big 5 and organised efforts will have to be put in place to popularise the sighting of this very interesting animal on regular game drives at National Parks.