The next two weekends will see the town of Bahia Ballena bustling with people — both residents and visitors — who are either working or enjoying what’s come to be a very popular event in the region, the 6th Annual Whales & Dolphins Festival. This year’s festival will be held on September 5-7 and 12-14, and will feature a number of goings-on including whale watching tours, environmental workshops, sculpture contests, concerts, photography displays, athletic events including a 10 km beach race (that the ladies of Bodhi Surf School are excited to be participating in), and food vendors.
Why we celebrate the whales
Bahia Ballena translates to “Whale Bay”, and whales are a very common uniting theme here. Due to consistent (and warm) year-round water temperatures, the global position of Costa Rica, and the clean ocean water, humpback whales from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres may travel up to 3000-5000 miles each way to come here to give birth to their calves. So that means that between December-March it’s common to see humpbacks from the Northern Hemisphere — generally from Baja California, but potentially as far north as Alaska; and from August-October, the Antarctic-based humpbacks spend their winter in the waters between the Golfo Dulce (south of here) to our own Costa Ballena. In addition to humpbacks, there are other whale species’ such as false orcas, whale sharks, Bryde’s whales, and Pilot whales that are occasionally spotted in the area.
Interestingly enough, our town also has an interesting natural geographical feature that is very fitting— a sandbar which, at low tide, looks like the tail of a whale. I’ve even heard joking (I think?) speculation that maybe the whales arrive here not just because of the warm waters and relatively predator-free environment, but because they are paying homage to what’s surely an important religious site for them or representation of their whale god.
Don’t forget the dolphins and other marine life
The festival also celebrates the other marine life that is found in the Marino Ballena National Park, including the three resident species of dolphins (Spinner, Spotted, and Bottlenose), sea turtles, coral reef, and the plethora of fish.
Witnessing these animals in their natural environment is a spectacular sight to behold, and it is only fitting that the community’s tourism businesses (Asociación de Operadores de Turismo (ASOTU)) have organized an entire festival to highlight and celebrate the natural wonders found off of Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific coastline.
Photos by Melissa Rejeb Photography