San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Take the Whale Trail Along the Osa Peninsula

There is an old hunting trail in Costa Rica that might have been in use before humans came to the Americas. The tribes doing the hunting are killer whales and false killer whales, two of the largest species of the dolphin family.

Both have brains bigger than ours. Both sometimes live longer than we do. Both are much more intelligent than we are when it comes to living in the ocean. And both need help to survive in Costa Rica.

These huge, air-breathing mammals are also known by their scientific names, Orcinus orca and Pseudorca crassidens. You will not confuse them if you are ever lucky enough to see them. The orca’s famous black-and-white pattern is unforgettable, while pseudorcas come in a great variety of brown shades, are smaller and more streamlined, and have much longer faces.

You might think the orca would be the bolder and more interactive of the two, but this is not the case. Orcas here in Costa Rica are very wary and only rarely approach humans. More than any other marine mammal in Costa Rica, they have the ability to disappear when they choose, and then no one can find them. Occasionally they do choose to be quite interactive with people, swimming alongside boats or even people in the water.

Most of the time, pseudorcas cannot resist coming to every boat in the area and making all humans scream and gasp with wonder. These extreme athletes often cannot get enough air time. They have more ways of completely flying out of the water than perhaps any other cetacean. They also have the most beautiful song of any whale or dolphin, and have been known to give gifts of fresh fish to divers in Costa Rica.

One thing orcas and pseudorcas share in common here is that they take the same hunting trails. Both stop by the pelagic or oceanic blue water offshore of southwestern Costa Rica’s OsaPeninsula to eat olive Ridley sea turtles. Both tribes swim around Caño Island Biological Reserve and enjoy bigeye jack and stingrays. Both swim along the coast from DrakeBay to CorcovadoNational Park, feasting on giant roosterfish. And both species have done this for as long as any old human in the area can remember.

The fact that these marine animals are sometimes coastal makes them extra special among the world’s orcas and pseudorcas.

The pseudorcas of Costa Rica and Hawaii may be the only coastal tribes of that species in the world; that would make Costa Rica’s false killer whales the only known mainland coastal group of pseudorcas. And the OsaPeninsula is the only place where orcas and pseudorcas share a trail.

Hawaii recently declared its pseudorcas endangered by too many longlines and nets.

Many fishers denounced the decision, which will affect where they can fish. But Hawaii declared that the sea mammals come first, knowing that protecting some areas of the ocean from fishing will ultimately mean that human fishers of the future will still have fish to catch.

Costa Rica must do the same, not only for the pseudorca but for the magnificent orca as well. A whale trail giving much greater protection to the ancient routes of these wide-ranging tribes will help keep Costa Rica’s oceans healthy, sustainable and awe-inspiring.

Imagine a park or reserve where, if you walk two minutes in any direction, you run out of space. That’s what CorcovadoNational Park and Caño Island Biological Reserve marine protected areas seem like to orcas and pseudorcas. These tiny rings around landmasses do very little to protect these marine giants. To protect big animals, you must protect big areas and big corridors, just as Costa Rica has taught the world to do with forests. Now it’s time to get on the whale trail.

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