The whales are back
by Greg Gordon
It is truly amazing to see a whale swimming in the tropical waters of the Costa Ballena. Thousands of visitors come from all over the world to see them breach, slap their huge tails, and play with their young. Here are some surprising facts about them so you can appreciate how they have evolved over the last million years.
Males grow to 13-14 meters, and females grow to 15-16 meters and can weigh over 30 tons. Newborn calves can be up to six meters and can weigh two tons. They nurse for six months, then mix nursing and independent feeding for another six months. Both males and females make sounds, but only the males are known to sing. Their songs can last 10 to 20 minutes, and they can sing continuously for over 24 hours. Humpback whales make other sounds to communicate, such as grunts, groans, snorts, and barks.
Whales have a huge brain. The limbic system that processes emotions is more complex than humans. They also have specialized brain cells called spindle neurons, associated with recognizing, remembering, reasoning, communication, perceiving, adapting, problem-solving, and understanding. Humpback whales come to Costa Rica from both the Southern Hemisphere (July–October with over 2,000 whales) and the Northern Hemisphere (December–March numbering about 300). This migration can take over 5200 miles.
They use a unique way to hunt, called bubble net feeding. A group of whales swims in a shrinking circle blowing bubbles below a school of prey. Some whales blow the bubbles, some dive deeper to drive fish toward the surface, and others herd prey into the net by vocalizing. The whales then suddenly swim upward through the "net," mouths agape, swallowing thousands of fish in one gulp. The water is then squeezed out through baleen plates in the mouth to filter out the prey.
Don't miss the opportunity to see them while you are here!