Humpback whales and other marine mammals off Costa Rica, 1996-98

This report summarizes research conducted on humpback whales and other marine mammals off Costa Rica in 1998 and also compares these findings with those from the two previous years of this research. Until these studies began in 1996, little information was available on humpback whales and other marine mammals that inhabit the waters off the west coast of Costa Rica. Cascadia Research, in conjunction with Oceanic Society Expeditions, and Elderhostel volunteer support, has conducted surveys based from Drake Bay, Costa Rica for two to four week periods in January and February between 1996 and 1998.

    Principal findings of the research have included:

  •  Humpback whales regularly use Costa Rican waters as a calving and breeding area with sightings of mother-calf pairs and singing males, and adult animals.
  • Our study area is used by a small group of humpback whales many of which return in multiple years to this area.
  • Humpback whales from this region are almost exclusively animals that use the California feeding area.
  • A total of 10 marine mammal species were documented in Costa Rican coastal waters and provided some of the first details of these species in these waters.

This information will be valuable in protecting managing marine mammals in Costa Rica. Tourism in Costa Rica has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, especially with visitors interested in terrestrial and marine wildlife. An expansion of resorts and tourist activities in Drakes Bay has occurred over the three years of this research. With these increasing activities and interest in whales and marine mammals, it is important we learn more about the populations of many of these species to be better to protect them and educate people.

In future years, it is important to complement the research at Drakes Bay with surveys covering an expanded geographic area. This would provide a better sampling of species that use other areas including more offshore waters, such as blue whales, and also provide a context for understating the relative importance of the Drakes Bay area compared to other coastal parts of Central America.


Calambokidis, J., K. Rasmussen, and G.H. Steiger. 1998. Humpback whales and other marine mammals off Costa Rica, 1996-98. Report on research during Oceanic Society Expeditions in 1998 in cooperation with Elderhostel volunteers. Cascadia Research, 218½ W Fourth Ave., Olympia, WA 98501.