An important thing to consider when choosing a whale and dolphin watching tour in Costa Rica is whether or not the operator is being environmentally responsible and respectful towards these amazing animals. It is something that many of our guests have asked us about in the past, and something that we take very seriously. So, taking a quick break from our species-focused blogs, we decided to explain some of the key regulations and responsibilities for guides, tourists and boat captains alike.
In Costa Rica, there are numerous certification programs for “eco-tourism” (a term which we don’t really like, but that story will be reserved for another blog). In Drake Bay, the Corcovado Foundation administers a program called “Responsible Marine Tourism”, which promotes many of the most important guidelines for pelagic tours in Costa Rica. All members of the gringocurt.com team have dedicated over a year of full time volunteer work in the Osa Peninsula. This work has given us a deep understanding for why the foundation is essential to maintaining our unique natural environment.
For our whale and dolphin tours and Cano Island tours, we only use guides and operators that have been certified under this program. And we are pleased to promote the following:
Never get between mothers and their calves
As with any animal, this would cause extreme stress to both mother and baby. In fact, it would be very difficult to even do this as whales and dolphins always keep their calves very close to them.
Don’t touch or feed marine wildlife under any circumstances
I once had the dubious honor of confiscating a loaf of bread from a guest who was planning to “feed the fish” at Cano Island. Wild animals are not accustomed to processed foods, and even a touch from our hands can introduce harmful bacteria into the ecosystem.
Never extract shells, rocks or any other organisms
Ecosystems are fragile. Especially marine ones such as reefs. Even a simple souvenir of a long-abandoned shell can cause damage, because you are robbing the environment of the calcium it needs to build corals and mollusc shells. Additionally, seashell removal has been linked to coastal erosion.
A maximum of three boats to a whale and dolphin watching site
This is actually an easy one to follow, as there are very few boat captains who are certified to do the kind of tour that we offer. But certainly, limiting the number of boats in one area is an important aspect of respecting cetaceans and their lifestyle.
Do not follow whales or dolphins at a speed faster than the slowest individual
The 2 main reasons for this important regulation is that “chasing down” whales or dolphins will disturb them; and that it greatly increases the chance of a collision injury. Additionally, if you were to do this, the animals would not be in the mood to play, dramatically reducing the quality of your own experience.
Avoid excessive noise.
While some species of dolphins enjoy whistles and songs from humans, excessive noise from the boat motor and/or splashing noises are far from ideal. This can be avoided by keeping to a respectful distance, speed, and educating tourists to refrain from “belly-flops” into the water when snorkeling at Cano Island.
Approach dolphins and whales diagonally from behind.
Again, this guideline refers to the harmful effects of “chasing down” cetaceans. We never advocate for a boat to approach a pod either head on or directly from behind, as this increases the chance of disturbance and injury to the animals. By approaching the pod from a more obtuse angle, it gives the group a chance to choose if they want to play with us- instead of the other way around.
Keep a respectful distance.
By stopping, or dramatically reducing the speed of the boat, we can approach cetaceans from a respectful distance. This allows us to observe their behavior without disturbing them. As with the previous guideline, it also allows the animals to decide for themselves if they want to play with us by swimming towards the boat.
Don’t throw anchors onto reefs.
Ok, do we need to say anything about this? If you see this anywhere in the world, please report it. In Costa Rica the appropriate authority is MINAE.
Never throw trash into the ocean.
Again, not much explanation needed here. Only to say that on the rare occasion that we do see plastic trash or ropes floating in the sea, we always actively attempt to remove it.
Boats should be equipped with fire extinguishers, life preservers, satellite phones, first aid kits, GPS, compasses, anchors, and an emergency manual.
All our marine tour captains have these features.
Educate guests about responsible marine tourism.
We hope that this blog has educated our past and future guests about responsible marine tourism. We are always happy to answer further questions via email or WhatsApp at any time. Our whale and dolphin adventures are organized with the deepest respect and passion for this spectacular group of species, and we always welcome contributions from biologists and conservationists that would further improve the way in which we conduct our pelagic adventures.