San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Divers Encounter Large Life in Pacific Waters

If you want to know what it feels like to be small, take a dive in Costa Rica’s Pacific Ocean. Really, the Pacific is where the wild things are. Big wild things such as sharks and rays and other fish that weigh more than you do.

While Costa Rica is perhaps most famous for its biodiversity, the big-school-and predator productivity of the Pacific is just as impressive.

True, there are not as many species in Costa Rica’s Pacific as in other places in the world, but the sheer numbers of some groups of the same species are just as awe-inspiring.

Fish schools that number in the thousands seem to support a few predators of very large proportions. But schools, or shoals, of fish that number in the millions support many large predators. And many large predators, from plankton eaters to meat eaters, swim with divers in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters.

Rays provide some classic examples. Manta rays feed in the open water on tiny animals known as plankton that drift with the currents. The giant manta grows to be among the largest of Costa Rica’s fish – just one would probably fill any room in your house.

Mantas in Costa Rica school in enormous numbers. The flapping groups can seem to be the size of a small island. When they school in groups, they also leap from the water in what could be a sort of mating dance. Often, several at a time will fly like popcorn from the water, flapping like huge bats, before splashing back down into the water. Maybe, with a few million years of evolution, they will learn to fly!

On the sandy bottoms of the Pacific coast, large numbers of stingrays gather at certain times of the year. Stingrays do not swim through the open water like manta rays, but rather hunt along the bottom for fresh fish, eel and crab. Divers need to take care not to swim too close over them, as they can live up to their name. Their famous stingers can be longer than your hand and covered with slimy, nasty bacteria. To avoid the stingray’s scorpion-like tail-sting response, shuffle your feet at the beach. If you avoid getting over them, they are unlikely to cause problems. Sometimes the sand can seem covered with these strange beasts.

Rays, in turn, are preyed upon by even bigger predators such as hammerhead sharks and orcas. Both stingrays and manta rays appear to be favorites with these large, toothy hunters. Ray congregations may even be the main reason orcas make regulars stops along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

Pacific diving has been excellent recently by all reports. Sadly for divers, Caribbean diving has all but shut down during the past two months of big surf. With El Niño in effect, the Caribbean will probably remain a surfing paradise until March or April.


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