Ballena Marine National Park

 The park area was created in 1989. It has an area of  ​​5.375 sea hectares and 110 land hectares which serve  the purpose of ensuring the maintenance of critical habitats, for the reproduction of many marine species, and preserving the productivity of biological communities that inhabit the coastal zone. It protects a variety of environments such as sandy beaches, rocky beaches, cliffs, islands, rocky reefs, organic coral reefs and isthmus of Punta Uvita. 

A geological formation that draws much attention to researchers and visitors is the Isthmus of Punta Uvita, formed by the deposition of terrigenous and biogenic sands on the crest of rocks linking the tip of the Isthmus to the coast creating the formation of a whale´s tails.  Marino Ballena National Park is surrounded by a region of great beauty, as well as scientific value. It has great value for environmental education and tourism development. 
 
One of the most important marine environments in the area is organic reefs, commonly known as coral reefs. These are made of hermatypic corals, which are organisms that contribute to most of the structure as well as coralline algae and sponges, which help to unite the elements of the structure. 

The coral reef structure is porous, with 50% empty space. As the reef grows, channels and cavities are formed that live in harmony, a factor that allows the coexistence of many species on the reef. 
 

 

Coral reefs are tropical communities that are developed in a range of temperatures between 18 and 23o C. They are very sensitive to temperature changes, exposure, and mainly to the deposition of sediments 

The migration of humpback whales is especially protected, which come to the warm waters of Costa Rica with their calves to nurse. The species that live here throughout the year such as bottlenose dolphins, spotted dolphins, crabs, worms, crayfish, algae, several species of fish, sponges, and mollusks such as cambutes are also protected. 

Two species of reptiles have also been reported in the area: the green iguana and cherepo. Among the species of seabirds, frigates, white ibis, pelicans, and brown bobo birds have been found here. 

 

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Cetacean Biology:

Whales and dolphins are animals which, along with porpoises, are part of the cetacean order. They are considered mammals due to the fact that they once had hair, contain mammary glands, skull and vertebrae, limbs, lungs, and fleshy ears among other features. However, because of the environment they inhabit, cetaceans have had to modify or adapt to the aquatic environment in order to be more hydrodynamic. 

Cetacean species are divided into Baleen animals (mysticetes, large whales), and toothed animals (odontocete, dolphins, beaked whales and porpoises). The baleen whales do not have teeth, but thick, hair-like structures that allow them to filter feed animals like plankton and krill.

 

Whales and Dolphins 

The humpback whales

(Megaptera novaeangliae) Well known among baleen whales by their acrobatics and their long migrations, they are approximately 12 to 15 meters long and have a black or dark gray back and white belly. The face is flat with bumps around the mouth. The dorsal fin is small and looks like a hump. The pectoral fins are long, white or black, along with an irregular tail with an undulating edge. Their blowhole can spout water up to 2 to 3 meters high. They dive under the water for about 20 minutes, or less if they are young, feeding on fish and crustaceans (¨ krill ¨). The breeding areas of humpback whales contain groups which are usually very small and unstable.

Humpback groups can reach up to eight males to one single female competing aggressively for a chance to mate. It is more common to observe them because there is a record of the months in which they migrate to our shores. During the spring and summer time they live and feed in the Arctic and Antarctic, but in the coldest weather, they leave the feeding areas to go to warmer waters to reproduce. In the tropics, we have two seasons of well-defined whale watching, the whales migrate south during the months of July through November, and north, arriving in December to March.

 

During the months when there are sightings, the mother and her young are very frequently seen very near the coast, just a few miles from the beach. Thet can be found at Whale Beach, Punta Uvita, Dominicalito, Whale Island, Isla del Caño, Drake Bay, and San Josecito beach. You can also watch other cetaceans. 
 

The pilot whales (globicephalamacrorhynchus), The False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens), Bryde`s whale (Balaenoptera edeni), and Orcas whales (Orcinus orca), are harder to see, because they are found in deeper waters. They have been seen around Caño Island. 
 

Here in Costa Rica, the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) are the most common and can be seen throughout the year. 

The bottlenose dolphin is larger and has a large dorsal fin and broad at the base, slightly arched; its color is gray in varying shades. The coastal dolphins are usually darker. They are 2 to 4 feet long, feeding on fish, squids and crustaceans. 

The spotted dolphin (Stenella atenuatta) is very common on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. There are groups living in the north and south. They are very active and can achieve high speeds while swimming. There are two species of spotted dolphins; the spotted oceanic and a coastal oceanic (more spotted, more robust and longer snout), the outer layer is dark, and the spots increase when they reach maturity. They are 1.5 to 2.5 meters long and their dorsal fin is high and arched. They feed on fish, squid, and crustaceans 
 

Also, the spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) can be seen rarely. They are usually found ocean farther out at sea. They completely jump out of the water, turning up to 7 times its longitudinal axis as if tightening a screw. They can be seen in large groups. Their size is 2.1 to 2.2 meters long, and its color is a uniform dark gray. Their triangular dorsal fin is slightly deflected forward. 

Cetaceans are animals that move freely in the sea, and are often seen near the coast. The consistent approach of vessels causes them to move more frequently and can move away from the coast, so we must implement all existing mechanisms, such as time and distance. Our captains have the knowledge of how to approach these extraordinary sea animals and enjoy them with the least possible disruption. It is not 100% guaranteed that we will see cetaceans, since we cannot be sure what will be seen every day.