Spotting Humpbacks in Matapalo
Besides the great right hand breaks, Matapalo is also a key spot for Humpback Whale watching. The 5th largest of the whale species, they can grow as long as 52 feet and weigh up to 50 tons. They may be gray, black or mottled and most likely have white on its flipperss and underside. These great mammals of the sea arrive here twice a year from the Northern Hemisphere in January and February and then from the Southern Hemisphere in August and September. You can sometimes see a pod of 50 or more migrating offshore to the south. Mothers will bring their calves into the Golfo Dulce to teach their young how to feed on their own and breach. Sadly, these endangered species are under increased stress due to the acceleration of climate change.
From the late 1800s to the first part of the 20th century, humpback whales were killed extensively by whalers. And then until 1970, there were massive kills of this mammal that went unreported in the southern oceans. The most recent threats to humpback whales are commercial fishing, collisions with ship traffic, pollution and climate change.
It is estimated that climate change is happening faster than whale populations can adjust leaving these mammals vulnerable. Accelerating climate change adds significant stress to humpback whales. The rapid decline in sea ice that is occurring is resulting in massive declines of krill populations, a main food sources for humpback whales. The krill need the ice to feed on the algae that live under the surface. No ice means a year of krill disappear and so does the food source for the animals that feed on them. The melting ice is also delaying migration patterns. A decrease in sea ice and presence of krill leads to longer migratory routes, and less time to gain the nutrients the whales need for assistance.
Humpback whales are the most abundant of the 25 species of whales and dolphins that migrate through Costa Rica. They feed on fish and krill in the arctic waters, mate and then give birth to their young in the warm tropical waters. With a life expectancy of 40 to 50 years, they breed every two years. Babies are born without a lot fat on their bodies making warm temperatures necessary to ensure their survival. Life processes are dependent upon a level of normalcy in migratory routes and the food chain. The abrupt disruption of these routes causes a disruption in the food chain of not only whales but the other species too. Costa Rica has various regulations in place to protect these species.
Matapalo is a favorite spot in Costa Rica to watch these magnificent whales and a trip to Costa Rica supports ecotourism, which is a good thing. Crocodile Bay gives day long tours to Matapalo to see the whales and it is well worth the trip to the one of the world’s most pristine exotic locations.