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Golfo Dulce Whale Heritage Area
Golfo Dulce

Golfo Dulce Whale Heritage Area

Celebratory events or festivals
Boat-based wildlife tours

Golfo Dulce is a tropical fjord located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Is one of the few areas in the world where untouched rainforest habitat meets pristine beaches, with some of the world’s most interesting biodiversity. Year-round resident dolphins and migrant calving humpback whales call these waters “home”.

Top photo: Dave Hamilton

Species and habitats

Golfo Dulce is a rich and important marine area for whales and dolphins. There are 7 cetacean species recorded, including bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, false killer whales and humpback whales. Occasionally other species are seen, such as Bryde's whale, spinner dolphins and killer whales.

Golfo Dulce provides a suitable breeding and calving ground for Northeast and Southeast Pacific populations of humpback whales. The calving seasons run from July to November (Southern populations) and November to March (Northern populations).

There are also year-round resident and non-resident dolphin populations. Bottlenose dolphins are more likely to be seen close to shore compared to the pantropical spotted dolphins.

Threats

The threats faced by cetaceans in Golfo Dulce include global issues like climate change, in addition to localised threats such as water contamination and increasing boat traffic (noise pollution and risk of propellor strikes).

The bottlenose dolphin population is an “inshore” ecotype, with fewer than 500 individuals along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and Panama. Numerous individuals show signs of a skin disease (lacaziosis-like disease).

Building development is also potential threat, as there is a new marina proposed in one of the hotspot areas for humpback whales.

Several local and regional programmes and projects are working to address these threats, including some carried out by research institutes, universities, or NGOs.

Did you know?

Migrant humpback whales from the Northeast and Southeast Pacific populations arrive in different seasons; the northern population migrates to the wintering grounds between December and April, whereas those from austral zones make their journey from June to October.

Tour boat observations have found that dolphins are regularly seen swimming near/around visiting whales. A scientific paper on these interactions is currently being prepared with the collected data.

Dolphins are also seen relatively frequently interacting with (“harassing”) venomous sea snakes, a behaviour noted in a few other areas of the world but not to the extent observed in Golfo Dulce.

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Why visit a Wildlife Heritage Area?

Trustworthy

Visitors to Wildlife Heritage Areas can take part in outstanding wildlife watching experiences that put wildlife first. Staying in a Wildlife Heritage Area helps local communities invest in animal welfare and wildlife conservation, benefitting community well-being and driving forward sustainable practices.

Designated for excellence

Communities achieve Wildlife Heritage Area designation by playing a central role in protecting wild animals and their habitats. With support from responsible travel organisations and wildlife experts, these communities are committed to help turn the tide on biodiversity loss and the climate crisis, adopt a zero tolerance for wildlife suffering in tourism, and advocate for positive change through a willingness to collaborate.

Stories

Human-cetacean conflict solutions

Human-cetacean conflict solutions

National regulation guidelines and strategies for whale and dolphin watching have been developed to ensure responsible interactions.

The National Institute of Learning developed a free course based on the whale watching regulations, which must be re-taken every five years by everyone working in cetacean watching tourism. The course is also on track to become mandatory.  

Ther...

Conservation successConservation success

Conservation success

There has been significant interest in developing Marine Protected Areas and other designations in Golfo Dulce and the surrounding area for the benefit of cetaceans, biodiversity and habitat conservation.

By law, all Costa Rican waters are deemed a whale and dolphin sanctuary, and the area of Golfo Dulce has also been declared a Marine Area of Responsible Fishing. This...

Education and research

Education and research

Throughout the year, education programmes, cetacean research and citizen science are carried out in the Golfo Dulce communities.

Free events are offered at the Golfito Public Library to foster an appreciation for the value and wonder of whales and dolphins. The format of these events is dynamic, incorporating slide presentations, discussions, art projects, book readings,...

Cultural heritage (new/ modern)

Cultural heritage (new/ modern)

In September 2023, the first annual Whale Festival was held to celebrate cetaceans at Golfito. The events include live music by Costa Rican artists, food, and whale and dolphin decorations. Educational stands provided information, played recordings of whale song and dolphin clicks, and encouraged involvement in the planning of and family participation in future WHA activities.

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Sustainability

Sustainability

Stakeholders and organisations coordinate regular clean-up events, removing debris on beaches, mangroves, and at sea to help care for the environment in and around Golfo Dulce.

Another initiative to improve and protect the environment is the Plant-a-Mangrove Programme. Operated by Osa Ecology, this initiative plants a baby mangrove for every tourist who joins a tour with...

Explore experiences

Whale Festival

Whale Festival

Celebratory events or festivals

The Golfito Whale Festival is an event held in the Golfo Dulce region, one of the most biodiverse areas of the country. The festival usually takes place in September and lasts for several days. Its main objective is to raise awareness about the importance of the conservation of whales and other marine mammals that migrate through Costa Rican waters.

The Golfito Whale Festival represents a unique fusion of nature, culture and sustainable tourism in Costa Rica. It contributes to the protection of whales, promotes local culture and benefits the local economy, while attracting travelers seeking an authentic and conscious experience with nature.