COSTA RICA WHALES
For thousands of visitors to Costa Rica whales and dolphins are a wonderful part of their vacation experience. The country's marine waters are home to or visited by 35% of all the remaining species of these creatures. 29 different species are found in Costa Rica's tropical waters, ranging from the mighty blue whale---the largest animal the world has ever seen---to the recently discovered freshwater porpoises called Tucuxi previously thought only to exist in the Amazon River and one other river.
For most people, seeing a whale suddenly appear alongside their boat is an unforgettable experience. . . no matter how many times they experience it.
There's something almost religious about spending even a few moments in the company of a creature which has been on earth for 130 million years.
And occasionally even taking a moment to remember that Men, real human beings that came before us, left their wives and children to live in the company of these ancient beings.
330 miles off the eastern coast of Costa Rica---and about half way to the Galapagos---lies Cocos Island.
Today, it's still so remote that it takes more than a day for many modern vessels to reach its waters from Costa Rica's mainland. 30 hours.
Now, take a moment to look at this engraved rock from the 1840s.
This photograph was taken in 1992 by Jodi Bertapelle who stopped at the island for five hours after a five month journey to Antarctica.
The engraving reads:
ST JOHNS NB
JULY TH 21 184
In the 1840s, the word "ship" had a very specific meaning: a three rigged masted vessel, often referring to a whaler.
JAS STEW could have referred to the name of the ship. In 1833, St. John (New Brunswick, Canada) shipbuilders built a 386 ton whaler---the James Stewart---which made five whaling voyages over the next decade and a half.
Or, it could refer to the name of the seaman who engraved the rock (the first "Kilroy"?) for there was a St. John's family in the 1830s and 1840s who were involved in the whaling business---and, in fact, the "James Stewart" whaler was built for that family.
It appears the rock was carved July 21 and researchers believe that the words "10 MOS" refers to the time the whaler had been at sea.
Remember this every time you see a Costa Rica whale. Your wonder has been shared by many others over the centuries, including hardy mariners who had to sail all the way from the eastern coast of Canada, around treacherous Cape Hope, and to the western Pacific north of South America---and back!
Costa Rica Humpback Whales
Though still considered vulnerable, humpback whale numbers have risen steadily since hunting them was banned.
On Costa Rica whale-watching tours, humpback whales are always crowd favorites for their tendency to breach completely out of the water to the delight of adults and kids alike.
Depending upon the time of year you take your whale watching tour, you'll likely see either humpbacks that have traveled all the way from Antarctica or their cousins that swam down from Oregon and northern California.
One of the places we recommend is along the southern Pacific coast, a small community called Uvita where you can watch whales in Costa Rica almost year-round.
The sperm whale is another of the wonderful Costa Rica whales.
Once considered extraordinary precious and according to Ishmael, narrator of Moby Dick, "as rare as the milk of queens" sperm whale oil almost led to the extinction of sperm whales.
The first commercial whaling operations for these whales was around 1720 along the New England coast.
It's estimated that the worldwide sperm whale population was well in excess of a million animals back then but whalers soon went far and wide in search of their prey and by the time of the American Revolution, 45,000 barrels of sperm oil were produced annually.
It burned with such intensity that, for decades, it was used in lighthouses and was valued as a lubricant during the early years of the Industrial Revolution.
It wasn't until the discovery of petroleum that demand lessened in the middle of the 19th Century and there was little commercial exploitation of these animals until the end of World War II when "factory ships" came on the scene, taking nearly 800,000 sperm whales between 1946-1980, and decimating the species to only about a third of its pre-hunting population.
Sperm whale hunting was abolished in 1985, except for Japan which continued the practice for three more years.
Today, 25 years after commercial hunting was prohibited, the worldwide population is slowly recovering and sperm whales are commonly seen off Costa Rica's Pacific coast.
Whale in Moby Dick
What do the following have in common?
The Industrial Revolution
The first American warship
The first Great American Novel
Answer: the whale in Moby Dick, click. It's an amazing story---and all true!