San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Distinctive Dolphin Leads Pod, Needs a Name

Of all the animals I know in Costa Rica, one of my favorites is a very distinctive pseudorca I first met more than 10 years ago. Her unique dorsal fin is so different from that of others of her kind that she can be spotted from a great distance, and she really stands out in a crowd. This massive dolphin seems to be one of the leaders of her pod.
Pseudorcas, or false killer whales, are the third largest of the oceanic dolphins, after orcas and pilot whales. These enormous dolphins rank among the world’s most impressive animals. Pseudorcas began thrilling people in Costa Rica long ago, and they continue to dive in our waters to this day.
These strange beasts are longer than your car, but lean and muscular. Their heads lack the big bulge on top that other dolphin species have, but that doesn’t stop many longtime guides and boat captains from mistaking them for the somewhat similar pilot whales, which grow to the same length but are stockier, thicker and darker in color.
I don’t know how our heroine’s fin got to be the way it is. Maybe she made a mistake surfing the wave of a boat, or a captain turned suddenly and the prop got her. Perhaps a shark took a bite when she was little and lost from her group. More likely, some fishing line got tangled around the tip of her fin and warped its growth. Or maybe she was born that way.
The sight of that old fin breaking the surface never ceases to fill me with excitement. This pseudorca has a grand presence and a stately manner in the way she always slowly approaches my boat, unlike the rambunctious younger members of her clan, who fly from the water and boldly surf the waves of the boat. Others may conspicuously eat or mate, swim a quick kilometer or so to surf the boat’s waves for just a few seconds, then streak off back to whatever they were doing. But my fine finned friend would never show such behavior.
To get her to approach, you must figure out her course and speed, match it from about half a kilometer away, and then cruise along and wait. After she senses you understand who’s in charge, she may slowly pull in alongside in a rather dignified manner.
This particular wild dolphin always seems to be constantly and closely attended to by other dolphins.Many others in her pod have distinctive fins that allow them to be identified as companions. When she breaks the surface to breathe, multiple others surface and take their breaths at the same time.
The direction this old dolphin swims seems to be one of the best indicators as to the course of the entire pod of approximately a hundred animals.While small groups of a few pseudorcas might break away from her and her entourage to hunt and surf kilometers away, the away teams always catch up to the one I guess is their leader.
Who knows? Maybe her other pod members bring us humans live fish gifts, as they have done off southwestern Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula for many years, on her command. Maybe she’s been bringing her clan a few times a year to the Osa for decades. She might know a vast area of the ocean that spans the waters of many countries, and she might know where to feed and when better than any younger dolphins. She might remember individual boats and people. I think her brain, which is larger than mine, has a bigger picture of the Osa’s waters than any human.
Incredibly, even having known her for so long, I have no name for her. I have heard many suggestions, but none ever stuck. I always give her a whistle when I see her, and I think of her as that whistle. Sadly, I cannot put that sound into words, so I think it’s time to give her a word name. I thought perhaps Tico Times readers could suggest some names and see if other photos exist of this easily recognized dolphin.
Please send your suggestions to

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