Whale Watching

Many people ask me about whales… where are they, how can we see them, what time of year, etc? Costa Rica is famous for whales, and there are many species that come here seasonally, to have their babies in its protected bays and coves.

Humpback Whales

Mother and baby whale in Costa Rica
The most common type of whale that you may see here are the Humpback whales, which are very large (well most whales are large, but these are seriously huge) and they love to jump out of the water from time to time. These diva whales also sing more beautifully than any other species.

When to see them

The most common time to see humpback whales in the Montezuma/Malpais area is from August through January. During this six month period they’re a fairly common site, and if you’re paying attention and looking out at the horizon, it’s fairly easy to spot one when it comes up for air and shoots its breath into the air. Occasionally they’ll jump, making a huge splash. Sometimes they slap their tales repeatedly. Once I saw a mother and baby whale slapping their tales together for an hour or so, from my ocean view house, and they were so close to the beach that I could hear it too.

Where to see them

It may just be my imagination, but they seem to hang out more by rivermouths, such as the Rio Montezuma or Rio Lajas. Perhaps they’re attracted to feed on something that likes the brackish water.

Usually they seem to be about half a kilometer from the beach, or further, but I’ve seen them quite close to the rocks at Las Rocas also. Some years, and mother will have its babies (whale babies are called calves) in Tambor Bay (known as “Bahia Ballena” or “Whale Bay” for this reason.) They also may head farther up the coast to Murcielago Bay, which has little or no development on it… probably a safer and cleaner place to have a baby than Tambor, which has many boats moored within it.

How to see whales here

The easiest way to see whales is to take a Tortuga Island Adventure tour. During whale season, it’s very likely that the boat captain and staff will spot some whales, and will drive over to them so you can get an up-close look. For many people this is really an experience of a lifetime, as you can see in the video I have posted here that I shot. We followed three or so whales for perhaps ten minutes, taking photos and oohing and ahing at their every move. The size of the large ones really boggles the mind. The are MUCH larger than elephants. The big ones look like huge nuclear submarines.

You can also see them from the beach or from any bluff or ocean view villa or hotel, and if you stare out to sea for a few hours you’re pretty likely to see one.

You may also see some dolphins, which can be spotted in the area any time of year.

Other types

You may also see both orcas (killer whales) and false orcas, which look similar, but aren’t toothed the way orcas are. Both species are much smaller than humpback whales. But, chances are that if you see a whale in the area, it’s going to be a humpback.

Whale sharks?

These are rare but are sometimes seen swimming close to shore. They get up to 60 feet long and are immensely huge also. Whale sharks don’t have teeth and aren’t dangerous. They are the world’s largest fish, while whales are warm-blooded mammals.

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