If you are one of the lucky few living in the south pacific zone of Costa Rica, you are probably well aware that it is currently the season when we are visited by friendly cetacean communities of dolphins and whales.
This south pacific region is privileged to be home to these mystical marine creatures for one of the longest whale watching seasons in the world, annually occurring from July until October. Happening in the peak of this season is the eighth annual Whale and Dolphin Festival, located in the heart of this occasion, Marino Ballena National Park in Bahia Ballena, near Uvita
Whales and dolphins are drawn to this region because of the Thermal Convection Dome, an area that is characterized by warm, shallow, and oxygen-rich water. This coastal climate during this time of year attract cetaceans with its rich food supply of small marine life, making it an ideal place to birth and raise their calves. Marine mammals are more likely to live closer to the surface at this time, making them easier to spot.
The festival, which runs from September 2nd – 4th and the 9th – 11th, is one of the most important tourism events in the region, last year hosting 40,000 visitors. This year, twenty-three tour operators are offering discounted tour prices (around ₡20,000 ($40) for adults and ₡10,000 ($20) for children aged 3-9, plus the park admission fee of ₡3,000 ($6)). Prices include a 2 hour boat tour (departing every two hours from 7am until 3pm) The park also organizes a festival that includes sporting competitions, sand sculpture contest, concerts, parades, workshops and various cultural performances. See the website for details. http://www.festivaldeballenasydelfines.com/
The most fascinating aspect of these visiting creatures is the male humpback whale’s mating display, which attracts most people to the region, watching them jump out of the water to create a big splash in an effort to impress female suitors. These stars of the show aren’t the only ones that visitors can readily see. Bryde’s whales, false killer whales and bottle nose dolphins are all ready to mingle, as well as species of sea turtles, such as the Olive Ridley or Hawksbill, also nesting in the region during this time. Some 90% of the local economy is dependent on marine mammal watching, so the local tour operators take great care in making this festival an event to remember.
In response to evolving ecological concerns, The Association of Tour Operators in Marino Ballena National Park have amended their operations to comply with new laws regulating whale-watching. Noise reduction is one of the main concerns addressed, as well as using routes that will cause minimal disruption to the movement of marine life.
In addition to tour operator reforms, visitors are encouraged to reform their own ecological practices while visiting the area and the festival organizers are asking tourists to use refillable bottles instead of plastic and will provide facilities to fill these bottles on-site. Fresh, locally harvested fruit is also available to visitors as part of the admission fee during the festival.