Costa Rica is one of the Best locations in the World to Spot Humpback Whales
Story by By Mike Erickson – Tres Ninas Tours • www.tresninastours.com
Costa Rican waters are home to dozens of marine mammal species. A common sight is spotted, or bottle nose dolphins escorting small craft on offshore fishing excursions. If you take fishing or snorkeling trips you’ll most likely spot the smaller cetaceans, but if you want to see the star of the show make sure you travel when they’re “wintering” in the warm tropical waters, and take a specialized humpback whale watching tour.
Costa Rica has the distinction of more months with humpbacks in residence than anywhere else in the world. We have this distinction because there are two different types of whales that visit Costa Rica. The California Humpback Whales (Megaptera Novaeangliae) visit Costa Rica’s Central and Southern Pacific Coast from December through early April. On the other hand, the Antarctic Humpback Whales (Megaptera Novaeangliae) from the south can be seen in Costa Rican waters from Mid-July through Mid-November. The very best time and place is August through September along the Southern Pacific Coast from Manuel Antonio to the warm waters around the Osa Peninsula.
Most whale watching tours depart Drake bay on the Osa peninsula or the central Pacific coast from Ballena Park near Uvita, to the beach town of Jaco. The best dates are from December through April for the California Humpbacks and starting again in July when the Antarctic whales arrive to stay until about November.
Because they spend so much time above the surface spy hopping, fin slapping, breaching and fluke flipping, Humpback whales are by far the most popular subjects for whale watching tours in Costa Rica. Of course the whales are wild and there is never any guarantee that you’ll see them, but your captains and guides will be in constant contact by radio with other boats all using GPS and will have the knowledge of the recent movements of the animals in the area.
When you see these giants burst completely free of the water it’s hard to believe it can be the result of anything but sheer playfulness and joy. Even though the whales along the Pacific Coast represent only a few percent of the world population, they’re relatively easy to spot because they congregate close to shore. Pacific Humpbacks swim in pods of about a dozen in the known calving areas along the outer shore of the Osa Peninsula, in the protected waters of Marino Ballena National Park near Uvita, and the bay areas from Quepos to Jaco. Humpbacks definitely steal the show on any whale watching trip in Costa Rica but keep your eyes open because Costa Rican waters are home to Orcas, Pseudo Orcas, Sei, Beaked, Brydes and Pilot whales.
If you’re near the Central Pacific coast in early September you might even want to partake in the Festival of Whales (Festival De Ballenas) in Uvita. For 2018 the dates of the festival are 7,8,9,15,16 of September. www.festivaldeballenasydelfines.com. This event is fun-filled with lots of activities, including whale watching tours. If you can’t get to the festival at least get out with your local tour operators and enjoy this unique experience Costa Rican style. Whale watching is typically done from small outboard motor skiffs or larger inboard fishing boats. Tour prices range from around $50 per person for bare bones half-day trips to $150 per person for guided excursions that might include a private boat, snorkeling and lunch. Don’t ask or expect to swim with the whales because it is illegal for anyone but scientific researchers to swim with whales or dolphins in protected Costa Rican waters. Reliable tour operators understand and respect this law and visitors should too.
Whale watching season is here so get out and experience the spectacle of these beautiful animals in this beautiful country.