Humpback Whales of Costa Rica


When people think of whale sounds, it is usually the humpbacks they have in mind. The humpback’s songs are the most complex of any of any whale species and longer, lasting twenty to thirty minutes. Humpback males sing, scientists believe, as a mating ritual, but where those sounds come from is not fully understood, since the species has no vocal cords and does not appear to open its mouth or exhale while emitting tunes repeated over days of presumed wooing.

Humpbacks feed cooperatively. Using a technique called “bubble net feeding,” they dive some fifty feet below the surface and create a huge net of bubbles, circling toward the surface which entraps krill. The species eats between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds of food a day during its four-month feeding season. Though the humpback can dive as deep as 700 feet, it spends most of the time in shallow water. Each dive usually lasts between fifteen and thirty minutes. The humpback usually swims three to nine miles per hour and half that while feeding. It is its slow pace in coastal waters while feeding that made the humpback an easier target for whalers than the faster swimmers.

Humpbacks live in temporary pods, breeding every two years. Gestation lasts twelve months. The humpback species’ lifespan is forty to fifty years. Wherever there are humpbacks, you will usually find orcas, their primary predator, though sharks may attack young humpbacks as well. The humpback received international protection in 1963, though killing of whales for “research purposes” is still sanctioned.

Humpbacks travel to Costa Rica from the world’s polar waters to breed and give birth, migrating from the Arctic migrate as far south as Venezuela and from Antarctica as far north as Costa Rica. During certain periods, visitors on Costa Rica tours will see humpbacks that have migrated from both poles. The peak months for viewing humpbacks are December to March and July to November. Marino Ballena National Park, on the Pacific coast, is named for the whales it protects, and a good spot for visitors who travel to Costa Rica wishing to see humpbacks. Further south between the Osa Peninsula and the mainland, humpbacks may be seen during the dry season in the Golfo Dulce off the shores of Puerto Jimenez. Humpbacks may also be observed out to sea in Drake Bay, near the Isla del Cano Biological Reserve.