Last Call for Whale-watching
November wraps up the southwest Pacific humpback whale population’s annual July to October migration to our waters, last chance this year to get out on the gulf and see these amazing creatures! Northeast Pacific humpbacks drop into the gulf December to March. Other Golfo Dulce cetaceans are less constrained in their migration patterns and lend themselves to more frequent viewing. Five species of dolphins live in inshore and near-offshore waters year round, and two types of porpoises visit us as well. Other than the beloved humpback, the only other whale that drops into our waters, also a baleen, is the Eden’s whale, or sittang (Balaenoptera edeni). On the heels of the 40th anniversary of the founding of Corcovado National Park on October 24, it is only fitting that you can still get out on the water—though just barely—with a full range of cetaceans cavorting in the gulf.
Our local dolphins include the spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuate) bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris, and the false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens). The spotted dolphin is the most often seen, her cousin the spinner a close second. They cruise into the gulf in the morning to feed and out in the afternoon to overnight in the Pacific, sometimes traveling in pods of a hundred or more. It’s clockwork, giving rise to the local industry of dolphin-watch paddle outfitters, up to three and counting in our tiny little town, a few contractors muscling in on the edges.
When high tide is between one and five in the afternoon, you can best combine the two signature paddles into a combined tour: the mangrove dolphin-watching sunset tour, $50.But the motorboat Golfo Dulce tour covers a lot of water andyou’re likely to see several pods of dolphin on your way across the gulf and back. The Osa Sanctuary on the other end of this tour is an amazing tour in and of itself, but combined with cetacean watching and mangrove motoring in the Tigre River mouth, this tour is simply excellent, $75, minimum of four.
The short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) is a porpoise, actually. This animal is the less populous of the two species of pilot whale. The long-finned pilot whale prefers cold water. Between the two, they live in all the oceans of the world and eat mostly squid. The largest porpoise, the orca, or killer whale (Orcinus orca), is an occasional Golfo Dulce visitor as well and puts the hammerhead sharks up around Mogos on edge whenever they cruise up the gulf. See this edition’s Osa Angler for a great image taken in the gulf.
But the most beloved cetacean visitor is the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). The fifth largest animal on the planet, the humpback vacations in the Golfo Dulce when it is winter in one of the two poles. You will see them on the Changing Tide Tours or Cabinas Jimenez motorboat tours. There are a lot of mothers with calves, showing them the ropes in gentle waters.
The short-finned and long-finned pilot whales are separate species without mixed marriages. The humpback whale populations are all within a single species, though there is a lot of regional differentiation. Of the many populations only the southeastern and northeastern Pacific populations reach the Golfo Dulce. But among the remaining populations, the humpback whale calls all the world’s oceans its home. Broadly divided between northern and southern hemisphere populations, all migrate to tropical waters during winter to calve, raise young, and mate. It is the southern humpbacks in the gulf now, but the northern humpacks will begin to arrive in December-January. CEIC reports that there is reason to suspect occasional overlaps in migrations, mixed marriages even, as the females of one population occasionally cross over and hook up across the tracks.
These peripatetic leviathans are as this edition hits the streets moving out of the gulf to head back to the southern Pacific for summertime plankton blooms. Funny how Latitude 8 pervades the fancy of not just Homo sapiens, but of a specie with a more magnificent Latin name that frequented these waters when Neanderthals were struggling against the African invasion of our ancestors. But the humpbacks live up to 100 years and will huddle again next year and the year after in placid gulf waters to sing in the fabled tropical fjord, the tenth deepest gulf in the world, Golfo Dulce.
Vying in public affection with the humpback is the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), which is the largest fish known to man. But since it is a “whale” shark—and a local favorite—it is grandfathered into this discussion as an honorable mention, not a cetacean. A solitary creature, the whale shark herds into schools to mate only in a few special places around the world, and wouldn’t you know it, the Golfo Dulce happens to be one of those places. Look to swim with them in April and May. The life of these gentle giants is spent mostly feeding. They plow the oceans slowly with their mouths open to filter-feed on plankton and krill, the same alimentary niche as all baleen whales, including the humpback. But the way they operate it’s easy to get ahead of them in a boat and put swimmers in the water, and the shark will keep on slowly plodding. He doesn’t care about you. You can even latch onto a fin and ride for a spell. It is frowned upon by the authorities, but the shark doesn’t seem to notice, just goes on doing what it does.
Whale-watching tours are offered in Drake, daily departures in the season, $100. In Jimenez the gulf motorboat tours adapt their regular year-round tours to whale season. Alternately you can contract directly with a captain and/or guide for private tours. Dolphin watching kayak tours depart daily from Jimenez at 3:00 pm from three professional outfitters: Aventuras Tropicales, Osa Dream Tours, and Escondido Trex, $40. In the whale season, it’s best to book a gulf tour with Cabinas Jimenez or Changing Tide Tours. If there are whales they will motor you to see them but the stop at the Animal Sanctuary is amazing in its own right, and the open gulf and darts into the Tigre mangroves combine to make this a world-class tour even when humpbacks are not around and a tour that is not strenuous, accessible to all.