Dolphins and Whales in Nosara

The most impressive sight any visitor to Nosara can witness, is arguably a pod of dolphins racing towards their vessel to ride the bow wave. This is a common occurrence off the local coastline, and often leaves those who experience it with memories to last a lifetime. The following information contains the various species of dolphins that frequent the waters around Nosara.

Bottlenose Dolphins

The only member of the animal kingdom with a larger brain to head ratio than the bottlenose dolphin is humans. Basically, ourselves notwithstanding, these creatures are the smartest on earth, and even this is up for debate. As well as using tools, such as sponges for foraging, their considerable intelligence makes them able to transmit cultural knowledge from generation to generation, and is why wild pods of dolphins form interactive relationships with humans.

Although some large shark species, notably the tiger shark and the great white shark, prey on these creatures (particularly the calves), the bottlenose dolphin is eminently capable of defending itself. They have been known to charge large predators both alone and in groups. This mobbing behavior involves headbutting the aggressor with such force that these counter attacks can often prove fatal, particularly when joined by the rest of the pod.

Although not as commonly seen off the Nosara coastline as other species of dolphin, sightings are still reported commonly enough. Like most dolphins, the species is under increasing threat from pollutants, and from the fishing industry that considers them a waste bi-product of their hunts.

Bottlenose Dolphin in Nosara

Spinner Dolphins

These dolphins can be found in warm, off-shore tropical waters and are, as their name implies, the marine kingdoms ultimate acrobats. This is evidenced by their displays in which they spin around their longitudinal axis as they leap through the air.

Spinner dolphins have been known to make between two and five spins in one leap. Although these displays may serve several functions, it would seem that the main reason they perform this is simply for fun. In addition to flips they can also do nose-outs, tail slaps, flips, head slaps, “salmon leaps”, and side and back slaps.

The species primarily inhabits coastal waters, islands, or sea banks. In the eastern tropical Pacific, these dolphins live far from shore. However, they are often known to swim closer to land, particularly in the waters off the Guanacaste peninsula. The spinner dolphin feeds mainly on small fish, squids, and shrimps, and will up to three hundred meters to feed on them.

spinner dolphin in Nosara

Common Dolphins

If you have ever been on an ocean cruise around the Nosara coastline, and found yourself mobbed by hundreds of dolphins skillfully riding the wake and bow wave of your boat, then the strong chances are that it’s these guys.

Common dolphins feed on a varied diet of fish and squid and prefer warm tropical waters along shallow coastline. Their pods can consist of between hundreds to thousands of individuals, and can even be found hanging out amiably with species such as pilot whales. Anyone who has seen them ride the bow wave of their craft can attest to what powerful, agile, and strong swimmers they are. Although acrobatics are not as common as with their spinner dolphin cousins, flips and tricks can still be witnessed from time to time.

common dolphin in nosara

Rough Toothed Dolphins

The rough toothed dolphin inhabits temperate, tropical waters around the world and are typically known to be highly social creatures. Pods range in size from two to ninety members. However the average pod size is around twenty members. Like the common dolphin, rough toothed dolphins have also been known to associate not only with other dolphin species, but with pilot whales, false killer whales, and humpback whales.

rough toothed dolphin in nosara

Pilot Whales

Despite their name, pilot whales are actually one of the largest of the oceanic dolphin family, and exceeded in size only by the killer whale. There are two species of pilot whale: the long finned and short finned. The former live in colder waters, and the short finned pilot whales live in warm, subtropical waters. Obviously, if you ever see one of these guys hanging out off the coastline of Nosara (which is eminently possible) then it will be the short finned version.

Before diving, pilot whales spend time on the surface taking huge breaths. When ready they dive at high speed to depths of up to 600m, sprinting to catch fast-moving prey such as squid. Interestingly, female pilot whales are one of the few mammal species that experience menopause. Post-menopausal females then stick around the pod for the rest of their lives to help nurture the young members. Threats include hunting and pollution.

pilot whale in nosara

Humpback Whales

Half a century after being relentlessly hunted to the brink of extinction, humpback whales have partially recovered to an estimated 80,000 animals worldwide.

Costa Rica waters boast more months per year playing host to humpbacks than any other country in the world. Furthermore, at no time and place on the planet are you more likely to see one of these magnificent mammals, easily identified by their stocky body, obvious hump, black dorsal coloring and elongated pectoral fins, than July through November off Costa Rica’s west coast.

These huge marine mammals range from 15-20m in length (with one female recorded at 27m), weigh anywhere between 25 and 40 metric tonnes, have tail fins a third the length of their body, and love nothing more than using their almighty physical power to shoot their colossal frames over the ocean surface before ascending with a thundering splash, otherwise known as breaching.

Humpbacks remain a huge draw for whale watching tourists hoping to see them perform acrobatics in their natural environment, sometimes they simply don’t show up, instead preferring to avoid the limelight by remaining in the shallow inshore depths of the Pacific coast.

humpback whale in nosara

The False Killer Whale
Like the pilot whale, the false killer whale is also another enormous member of the dolphin species that inhabits oceans worldwide but mainly frequents tropical regions.

Although the size can vary depending on the environment these guys can reach a maximum length of 6m. False killer whales are known to be highly sociable. As well as forming pods of up to 500 members, it can also form pods with other dolphin species, particularly bottlenose dolphins.

false killer whale in nosara

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