Of all the wildlife in water and on land in Costa Rica, one of the most spectacular animals are the whales. On both sides of the coast, Pacific and Caribbean, are over 25 species of dolphins, porpoises and whales in Costa Rica.
Whale watching opportunities are available and during the peak months of migration, it is easy to see these magnificent beasts roaming the waters. Costa Rica’s waters are blessed with good health, temperature and location, so whale species come here year round to mate, give birth and raise their young before heading back to feed on krill which are rich in the colder waters.
So if you’re coming to Costa Rica hoping to see some whales, you’re in luck!
There are many spots around the country to see these majestic marine mammals and you’ll probably pair that with many of the other animals you can see out at see like dolphins, manta rays and turtles.
Whales in Costa Rica
- Whales That Can be Seen
- The Best Time To Go
- Best Place to go
- Mom and baby whale
- Whale Watching Tours
Whales That Can be Seen
Many of the species that pass through are deep water dwellers and are hard to see such as the blue whale, fin whales, the endangered Sei whales and some species of sperm whale. They can be seen off the Pacific coast in the deep sea occasionally.
The biggest animal on earth, the blue whale is another whale that passes through Costa Rica. During the winter months they migrate for warmer waters to feed and reproduce at the Costa Rican dome, the south Pacific side of the country.
One species in the order of Cetacea, the Orca has been seen more frequently in Costa Rican Pacific coast even though they are not common here and it is not their normal habitat as they prefer colder waters.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of pilot whales, which are actually the second largest oceanic dolphin. Short-finned pilot whales live in warm waters so they pass by Costa Rica. We were lucky to see some hunting while we were out boating in the Gulf one day! A big pod of them just swimming alongside our boat.
This is a video of us boating in the Gulf of Papagayo. Skip to 3:18 to see the whales!
The Best Time To Go
The best time to go whale watching in Costa Rica is December to April and August to December, almost all year round. This is due to the migration patterns of the humpback whales, of which both Northern and Southern hemisphere humpbacks pass through Costa Rica. The humpback whales are the prized jewel for whale watching in Costa Rica.
Southern Hemisphere humpback whales travel from Antarctica to Costa Rica from late July through early November. This migration route is 11,500 miles (18507.5 kilometers). Northern hemisphere whales head to Central America from Alaska from the months of December to March. These long routes make them one of the farthest migrating animals on Earth.
Between the months of October and November, it is common for both sides to pass through Costa Rica at the same time and this could serve as an advantage for males, increasing the genetic diversity during mating. Because of this, Costa Rica has the longest humpback whale season in the world.
Best Place to go
They are found all along the Pacific coast (some places more than others) and here in the Gulf of Papagayo we have had many whale sightings.
Mom and baby whale
During these months, it is very common to see mom and baby. This is the time where mothers nurse their young and teach them how to breach, dive and feed. The babies are very playful and sometimes when you see them they are splashing their fins around and eagerly jumping out to practice.
These whales are fairly easy to spot because they spend much of their time at the surface and close to shore. Humpback whales have a distinct hump, a black dorsal fin and can range in length from 12 – 16 meters long.
Whale Watching Tours
There are many tours available in Drake Bay, Uvita and Manuel Antonio for whale watching. There are a couple laws surrounding whale watching and all the tour operators should know and respect them. No one can swim with dolphins or whales except for scientific researchers and these laws are instated to protect these animals.
Humpback whales are endangered and they are protected internationally by the government.They were almost extinct due to whaling up until 1966 when a law was put into place to stop hunting and have since recovered greatly. Some countries still hunt them such as Japan but there is ongoing pressure to end their whaling practice.
If you are going out whale watching, make sure to have a full charged battery for your camera and that you have a good zoom lens if you have a DSLR. There are so many other animals out there in the ocean that you’ll want to have it handy to catch it on film.
If you love animals and the ocean, then going whale watching in Costa Rica will be an activity you definitely shouldn’t miss out on. It’s an amazing experience to see these impressive creatures and reminds us just how much we need to protect our nature and earth.
If you’d like to read more in depth information about the various whales in Costa Rica, check out the Mammals of Costa Rica: A Natural History and Field guide book.
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