Costa Rica’s First Whale and Dolphin Festival
To promote whale and dolphin conservation as well as responsible responsible observation activities of these animals, Costa Rica’s Whale Marine National Park hosted the country’s first whale and dolphin festival over the weekend of September 4-6. The event was sponsored by the Environmental Ministry along with the assistance of the Whale and Dolphin Coalition.
Whale Marine National Park was established in 1987 to protect humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) reproductive sites as well as coral reefs. In addition to whales, bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus) and spotted (Stenella attenuata) dolphins are commonly seen within its 5300 hectare expanse.
The park’s marine protected area is off limits to commercial fishing; however a fleet of tour boats patrol the park’s waters, each captain jockeying for position while his many paying guests try to guess where the next whale will surface.
Responsible whale and dolphin watching provides humane, sustainable and economically viable alternatives for coastal communities faced with the decline of small-scale fisheries due to over-fishing. According to a recent study, 12,592 tourists visited the park to take part on whale watching tours in 2007, generating us$755,520 from ticket purchases.
These economic opportunities have resulted in many local fishermen cashing in their gill nets and hand lines to refit their fishing boats with cushioned seats and lifejackets-amenities that make whale watching safe and comfortable.
On Saturday afternoon, up to 8 tour boats drifted or idled in a large circle around a humpback mother and her calf, breaking off their pursuit to shuttle the next wave of eager sightseers to the site. With scientific studies showing that humpbacks abandon known congregation sites when adverse human activity affects their natural behavior, local operators are struggling to create an equilibrium between tourist dollars and non intrusive whale watching tours that insure the animal’s well being remains a topic for local conservation groups. As tourism increases in and around the park, it’s certain that adhering to the Responsible Code of Conduct for Marine Tourism Activities, signed in 2009 by boat captains and guides, will be crucial not only to preserve to whale’s birthing grounds but the local economy as well.
The park is home to two distinct populations of humpbacks. Its southern population arrives during the rainy season (June-November) from cold southern ocean waters to birth their young in the park’s warm protective surroundings. It’s estimated that 200 individuals make up this group of humpbacks while around 85 individuals make up the northern population that arrive during the dry season months (January-April).
For more information on whale conservation efforts in Costa Rica, contact The Coalición Costarricense por las Ballenas (Costa Rican Whale Colalition) at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at www.porlasballenas.com