San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Dolphin Superstar’s Home Remains Unprotected

The most famous dolphin in Costa Rica lives offshore of southwestern Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula in the crystalline transparency of the blue-water pelagic ecosystem. His dolphin name is unpronounceable for humans, so I call him Sharkbite.

I have known this highly energetic spinner dolphin for more than 10 years, and I can tell you he loves cameras, and cameras love him.

Sharkbite looks quite the superstar in the new Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas video, “Make a Wave.” Spinning around in the air and making all the other dolphins around him look lazy, this dolphin hogs the camera and steals the show. Lovato and Jonas, who were in Costa Rica last week for a concert at Ricardo Saprissa Stadium in Tibás, sure seem excited to see Sharkbite in the video.

Sharkbite is also featured in Disneynature and Galatee Films’ recently released movie, “Oceans.” He dominates every scene he is in, and he and his tribe provide some of the coolest segments in the film, including a scene of a massive pod of dolphins jumping in the sunset.

This dolphin and his gang also show up on YouTube and in yours truly’s Costa Cetacea Osa Costa Rica Blue Water Pelagic Guide video and Costa Cetacea Quick Guide to Costa Rica Spinner Dolphins. Full disclosure: I was also unit production manager for the crew that scored the shots of Sharkbite for “Make a Wave” and “Oceans.”

Sharkbite’s extremely athletic superstardom is all the more impressive considering he is a physically challenged dolphin. He got his name for a reason: You see, Sharkbite is missing a big chunk of his underside. That’s what makes it so easy to identify him among the thousands of other dolphins he cruises with. I don’t know for sure it was a shark bite – it could have been an orca or false killer whale – but the name has stuck.

Sharkbite’s obvious physical challenges don’t seem to slow him down one bit. He and his tribe have much bigger problems. Their ocean home is called “Bonanza” and “Jackpot” by the giant tuna dozers that net absurd amounts of amazing marine life on a regular basis in sight of Caño Island Biological Reserve and Corcovado National Park. The dozer nets kill countless spinner dolphins here (TT, Aug. 16; Sept. 5, 2008).

Astoundingly enough, this offshore area, known to contain far more dolphins than any other part of Costa Rica, has no protection. And even though the United States just gave a mountain of money to Costa Rica in large part to create more marine protected areas (MPAs), Sharkbite’s Osa home, probably Costa Rica’s richest waters, is not on the map of MPAs to be created.

Forever Costa Rica, a visionary protection plan begun under former President Oscar Arias in part, to greatly expand Costa Rica’s MPAs, really should include Sharkbite’s unique home (see map). And “Spinner Dolphin Park” or “Pelagic Park” sounds a lot better than a Bonanza or Jackpot of dead dolphins.

Let’s hope that international support, Arias’ vision and Sharkbite’s superstardom can combine to make a wave of ocean conservation that includes his home and all its denizens offshore of the Osa Peninsula.

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