Science TED Fellows

Why are these whales here? TED Fellow Asha de Vos featured in The New York Times

A day at the beach means something very different to TED Fellow Asha de Vos, a marine biologist who has spent the past three years charting an unusual population of blue whales just 12 miles off the coast of Sri Lanka, the country where she was born. While most blue whales migrate from tropical waters to polar waters, which are more nutrient-rich, this group—and there could be thousands of whales in it—stays put year-round.

“I’m trying to figure out why these whales are here,” says de Vos of her Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project, featured in a video on NYTimes.com today. “The sheer fact that these whales are able to stay in these waters all year long is very, very intriguing.”

Sticking close to the land means that the whales too often collide with ships and large boats. So far this year, six whales have died this way. De Vos is hoping that by studying the whales, she will be able to convince the government to shift shipping lanes farther out to sea — and to regulate Sri Lanka’s burgeoning whale-watching industry, because, as of now, “whale-watching boats are driving helter-skelter around the animals.”

“[The blue whale] is the largest animal that’s ever lived on the planet, and we know next to nothing about it,” de Vos says, oozing passion as she speaks to the NY Times. “I grew up in Sri Lanka, this is where I was born and bred. I have found my heart’s calling.”