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whale jumping body 
 - Costa Rica

Whales

Whales

Hilights

  • Scientific Name: Megaptera novaeangliae
  • Status in the Wild: Common
  • Habitat: Oceans
  • Diet: Carnivore

Of the world’s 76 dolphin and whale species, an estimated 25 migrate, mate, birth and feed in Costa Rican waters. About half are commonly spotted off the south Pacific, including Bryde’s whales, humpback whales, and sei whales. Dyde whales are frequently seen in Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean sea. Technically classified as dolphins, orca (killer) whales, pseudo orca whales, and short-finned pilot whales are found along the entire length of the Pacific coast.

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Humpback whales are one of the most iconic and often-sighted whales in Costa Rica. They have broad, round heads that look long and slender when viewed in profile. Interestingly, the coloration and shape of their dorsal fin and tail are as unique to humpbacks as fingerprints are to humans. The head and jaw area are typically covered in large bumps, each containing at least one coarse hair. Humpback whales eat up to 1.5 tons a day, filtering krill – small crustaceans resembling shrimp – and small fish through their baleen. These marine giants measure 40-50 feet, weigh approximately 25-40 tons (50,000-80,000 pounds), and live at least 50 years.

Costa Rica Whale Watching Season:

The Osa Peninsula’s Drake Bay has the longest humpback whale watching season in the world. South American humpback populations migrate north during Antarctica’s winter season – their 11,500-mile journey ends in Costa Rica, where they spend the months of August through October breeding and calving in the warm waters. North American populations, making an equally lengthy journey south from the Arctic, winter here from December through April. Together, these humpback whale populations spend eight months in Costa Rica each year.

Whale Song:

A humpback whale song generally lasts from 10 to 20 minutes and is sung continuously for hours at a time. Humpback whales are divided into North American and South American populations – all males of each population sing the same song, despite great distances between groups. However, the songs of North American and South American populations are very different from the other. The songs change slightly from year to year. Males float head down and relatively motionless while singing; they have the ability to sing in many octaves, some with frequencies unable to be heard by humans.

Habitat:

Humpback whales are found in all of the world’s oceans. Most follow a set, annual migration route, spending summers in polar waters where they feed, and migrating to tropical waters in the winter to mate and give birth. In Costa Rica, they are regularly found off the Pacific coast. including the Papagayo Gulf, Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Ballena National Marine Park, Drake Bay, and Puerto Jimenez.

Reproduction:

Humpbacks reach sexual maturity between six and 10 years of age, when males measure 35 feet and females reach 40 feet. The gestation period for humpback whales is 12 months and females generally bear a calf every two or three years. Newborn calves measure 10-15 feet and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Calves nurse for approximately one year.

Status in the Wild:

The slow-moving humpback whales swim, feed, and mate close to shore, which made them prime targets for early whalers. In 1966, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) declared them protected worldwide, but they are still hunted illegally. Today, populations are estimated at 30,000-40,000, approximately 30-35% of their original numbers.