San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Spinning sea creature sings our tune

From the print edition

Imagine if a giant group of jaguars strolled out of the forest and began to frolic and play around you while you walked, whistling, down the street. What would you think if big cats began to purr the notes of your song? What if horses joined you for your musical stroll? Dogs? Macaws? Crocodiles?

Shawn Larkin

Shawn Larkin

Music with most animals is pure fantasy.

But as everybody knows, in Costa Rica pure fantasy can be pure life.

There is a giant group of dolphins that make music with people who live off the ancient risen seamount known as the Osa Peninsula, in the Southern Zone of the Pacific coast. Jump into the water with them and hum a few bars into your snorkel, and they may well swim right over and match your tune with their own dolphin style. Really.

Years ago, the dolphins did not seem to be into human music, but as our relationship progressed, so did our song. For those of you who are rightly skeptical, you may want to check out the following links: and The dolphins swim over and clearly match my crude notes. They now do this every time we go out with them. The dolphins sound with almost everyone who tries.

Some of you might say, “so what?” Dolphins have been inspiring people to music since recorded history began. What makes this interspecies interaction more impressive is that this same dolphin pod has been netted and assaulted on a regular basis for many years. The dolphins still choose to play and sing with us.

I have never met anyone who was not moved by meeting the Osa spinner dolphin pod, which we have taken to calling Los Músicos, or The Musicians. Upon meeting them, many woman have cried. Men often curse. Bono – yes that Bono from U2 – sang them opera. His old-salt, super-yacht captain and bandmate, Edge, said that in 30 years at sea he had never seen anything like it. James Kaiser, author of an upcoming travel guide on Costa Rica, said that after four years touring Costa Rica, this was the coolest thing he did.

Multiple members of the Jacques Cousteau team said they, too, had never seen anything like these dolphins. They have appeared on Discovery Channel’s “Animal Planet,” in the Disney/Nature Cinema release, Oceans, on the BBC’s “Blue Planet” and in a music video by Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas.

Maybe we should stop netting and killing Osa dolphins for canned tuna? If people are not out on tour with these dolphins, ships are assaulting them. The only thing that has stopped the tuna dozers are camera-toting tourists in boats, catching them far offshore in the act. There will be a lot of cameras rolling over the next year. What will be filmed?

These dolphins are headed for prime time. They might continue to become one of Costa Rica’s most iconic images, like the hammerhead sharks of Cocos Island National Park. With ships full of tourists instead of nets, Osa residents could make boatloads of money and save the dolphins. Studies have show spinner dolphin populations do not come back, even after netting stops. What is likely the largest resident dolphin pod in the world is being slaughtered before our eyes.

Will the Osa icon be a dead dolphin or a singing one?

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