Villagers have spotted a crocodile in the sea along the Wellawatte-Dehiwala coastline. The animal has been seen on several occasions, but animal activists say there is no cause for concern – this is no invasion by a swarm of crocs but a case of a lone reptile drifting harmlessly in the water.
Philip Weinman has seen the crocodile on two occasions, in the sea around Dehiwala. The first time was in mid-February, around six in the morning, when he was out at sea in his boat fishing. The second sighting was a week later, in the evening. He tried to take a photograph, but the croc disappeared when the boat approached it. Mr. Weinman estimates the reptile at between 6 and 8 feet in length.
Mr. Weinman is a member of the Anglers Club, and deep sea fishing is a pastime. “I have been fishing for more than 25 years, and this was the first time I saw a crocodile in the sea.”
The Dehiwala fishing community has reported several sightings. Late last month, a swimmer entered the Dehiwala sea only to race back to shore on seeing a crocodile in the water. Eyewitnesses agree the crocodile has been a passive, non-aggressive visitor, drifting about peacefully in the sea beyond the line of breaking waves.
Meanwhile, a crocodile was seen over several days in the Colombo Dockyard. The animal was first spotted on February 20. Dockyard employee Rohithe Amarasinghe took photographs and a video. The animal was seen paddling passively around the same spot for three consecutive days. Mr. Amarasinghe, who has worked at the dockyard for many years, said this was the first time he had seen a crocodile in the vicinity.
Animal experts say it is not unusual to see crocodiles in the sea. Most likely, these are salt water crocodiles, known as gata kimbula in Sinhala. Their habitat covers estuaries and lagoons, but they are occasionally found in the sea. The salt water crocodile excretes excess salt from its body.
Dr. Anslem de Silva, an authority on crocodiles, says crocodiles would rather avoid than confront humans encountered in the sea.
Dr. de Silva, who is vice-chairman of the Crocodile Specialist Group IUCN/SSC for South Asia and Iran, believes the sea-going crocodile might have come along a canal and ended up on the Colombo shoreline. Colombo has a good canal network system, originally built for transportation during the Dutch occupation. The canals are interlinked and connect different parts of the city and suburbs. The marshes in the western province – Muturajawela and Bolgoda – are among the last hideouts of the salt water crocodile.
A crocodile was spotted in the Wellawatte canal a few years ago. The Sunday Times reported on the crocodile in December 2007 in an article by Mike Anthonisz. Mr. Anthonisz said he saw a crocodile basking in the same spot three months ago. It is possible that the crocodile seen recently off Dehiwala is the same animal, probably disturbed by human activity along the Wellawatte canal or flushed into the sea by heavy rains filling the canals. Crocodiles need time in the sun.
Experts say the presence of a crocodile in the sea around a highly commercialized city suggests urban biodiversity. They hoped the animal would not suffer the fate of the Ragama crocodile, which died after being captured.
Participants in the annual two-mile swim were naturally concerned. The event attracts hundreds of swimmers, who swim from Mt. Lavinia to Wellawatte, a stretch that covers the area where the crocodile has been spotted. The 75th two-mile swim was held last Sunday, March 4 without incident.
Dr. Anslem de Silva said it was unlikely that a crocodile would want to be near a noisy event such as a swimming competition, which involves hundreds of people, as well as boats that ride close to the swimmers. All that activity would scare a crocodile away.