Humpback Whale Migration – Costa Rica

As if there was not already a menagerie of wildlife throughout Costa Rica, the ocean is no different. One of the better areas of the world to encounter whales and humpbacks in particular is this Central American paradise. Congregating year round is a rare spectacle for any country however, due to its location close to the equator, whales migrate thousands of miles in large numbers from both the south and north poles to mate and give birth in the tropics before returning to the poles to feed on krill and plankton.

There is estimated to be close to 30 species of cetacean (whales, dolphin and porpoise) in Costa Rican waters, yet many are rarely seen due to depth of dives, and the fact that they rarely travel close to the coast. Orcas are one of the species that have been seen by divers at Cocos Island and while diving the Catalina Islands, close to the town of Playas del Coco in the Guanacaste region of the Pacific coast.  Dolphins are often seen by fishermen as they ride the wake of the boats and arrive in search of food.

Sperm, Sei, Fin, Blue, Bottlenose and Beaked whales have all been spotted within Costa Rican waters, however are not slated to be common or indeed occur in numerous numbers. Humpbacks however, the most spirited of species, associated with their full body breaches, spy-hopping, tail-lobbing and fluking are as common as can be. That being said, spotting whales from shore is not guaranteed, yet on certain days throughout the year divers, snorkelers and whale enthusiasts will often have the chance to see a whale. Being part of numerous dives throughout the Pacific coast of the country I frequently heard the song of the whale during dives. The beautiful melodies are disorientating at times as one never quite knows if the whale is mere feet below you or in fact thousands of feet in the distance.

During the dry season in the Pacific we were lucky enough to be on a dive boat when the ocean around us erupted with multiple blows of whales. One mother and her calf came up to the boat and rubbed their barnacled skin on the hull of the dinghy. They stayed there for a while in the warm water (ranges between 72 – 84 F), mother teaching her young baby and the divers on the boat observing the spectacle of their lives. Humpbacks from the northern population visit Costa Rica from December to April while the southern population spend August to November in the warm waters. Many whales find the sheltered and shallow bays along the coast an ideal location to raise their calves as well as finding protection from potential predators such as Orcas and sharks. Some whales have been recorded to travel as far as 9,000 miles.

Due to this convergence of northern and southern populations, the Pacific coast of Costa Rica is now regarded as the longest humpback viewing season in the world as well as a sanctuary for one of the world’s marine giants. Marino Ballena National Park is regarded a hot-spot to view humpbacks throughout the year.

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