Whale Season in Manuel Antonio
One of Costa Rica’s biggest attractions is its biodiversity. For a country the size of West Virginia, or Denmark, there is a remarkable amount of life within its borders, as well as vast variety. From the cold, upper-elevation savannas of Cerro de la Muerte, to the mystical cloud forests that dress the Talamanca mountains, to the dusty lowland dry forests of Guanacaste, to the dense tropical rainforests of the southern Pacific, and even the coastal wetlands–there are many habitats for the diverse flora and fauna.
Many people are attracted to Costa Rica because of the great densities of wildlife. Seeing capuchin monkeys raid your balcony, or iguanas begging at the beach is pretty cool. Watching pelicans surf the waves with precision, or a blue morpho butterfly flutter by is a sublime experience. Observing leaf-cutter ants carrying thousands of clippings from yellow flowers, or a resplendent Quetzal fly by in a perfect sine-wave is a gift from nature.
Ironically, one of the most unique and powerful wildlife experiences seems to be largely overlooked by visitors to Costa Rica: Whale-watching. Costa Rica effectively has the longest whale season in the world. In fact–there are 2 seasons for humpback whale migrations in Costa Rica. The first is from December to March, when the northern humpbacks travel thousands of miles from Alaska travel all the way down to Costa Rica to birth their young. The second is from August to November, when the southern hemisphere humpbacks do the same. Occasionally, members of these two groups will meet up in December.
There is nothing quite so powerful as seeing a humpback whale up close. A full grown humpback can be ten times the size of a full grown elephant, yet as gentle as a docile doe. Adults can reach up to 50 feet in length. Their songs are varied and powerful, and can even be heard above the surface of the ocean. To see such a creature throw itself bodily out of the ocean and come splashing down is a heart-stopping event.
Two weeks ago, I was so fortunate. Aboard the 21-foot ‘Minnow’ (‘a three-hour tour…’), we encountered a mother and her adolescent calf in training. For the period of an hour, we watched and filmed the calf playing–barrel-rolling, breaching, and performing his best imitation of a marine bronco. It was the first time I have ever seen a humpback breach!
Three years ago in September, my wife and I had another, different, whale experience, from aboard a 25-foot Dusky. The video can be seen here:
Ironically, while September is in the heart of the low season for tourism–in my opinion it is the best month to visit Manuel Antonio. Prices go down, and there are relatively few tourists. The weather is usually fantastic–cooler than during the high season, and if it rains it’s usually in the evenings. Everything is green and beautiful, but not inundated with the rains of October and November.
And it is the peak of the humpback whale season!