THE BIG BLUE: Dolphins have scattered and no whales have been seen in
the area since a foreign research vessel drilled into the ocean floor
earlier this year.
The blue-water pelagic ecosystem offshore of southwestern Costa
Rica’s Isla del Caño Biological Reserve and Corcovado National Park took
serious one-two punches during the past few months, and it remains to
be seen whether things will ever return to conditions of the past. The
area around, not inside, the two protected areas is probably Costa
Rica’s most critical dolphin and whale breeding and feeding waters. But
the whales are gone, and the dolphins have changed. The fishing has been
off, and boats are headed elsewhere to find fish.
The first few months of the year shaped up to be one of the
best seasons for marine life in Costa Rican waters in recent memory. The
cool currents of La Niña stoked a profusion of big pelagic species like
dolphins, whales, tuna, turtles and giant mantas. Divers and snorkelers
from the Southern Zone reported more giant mantas seen at Caño Island
in February and March than in the past 15 years put together. Flights
and boats searching for marine life in the area were finding dolphin
superpods, groups of dolphins numbering in the hundreds to thousands,
all over the area. There were many mating and birthing humpback whales, a
large pod of false killer whales, orcas, fin whales and even three blue
whales, including a baby, feeding on giant bait balls of small fish
brought up from the depths during the normal strong upwelling at this
time of year. There were uncountable hectares of turtles, tuna and
billfish. There were even a few big sharks.
Then, a giant foreign
ship showed up and began drilling deep holes in the ocean floor not far
from Caño Island, in the name of scientific research. Within a day, the
whales were gone. Search time for dolphins from a plane went from a half
hour or less to two hours or more. Most dolphin superpods broke into
smaller groups and headed north toward offshore Quepos. Others broke
into smaller groups and moved inshore, closer to the coast. Dolphins
that stayed in the area developed a strange skin rash.
ship kept at it for a month. Great areas of waters turned from marine
blue to metallic brown and green. The day after the ship left, a new one
showed up towing many kilometers of giant air guns blasting extremely
loud sounds repetitively. A week later they were still at it. Drake Bay
ecotourism and sportfishing boats foolish enough to still be looking in
their favorite hot spots were told to leave the area by burly men on a
yacht out of Quepos. Scuba divers at Caño Island could hear the giant
booms of the guns during their dives.
No environmental impact
study was done for the area. No dolphin and whale observers were onboard
to look out for cetacean safety. There were no Costa Ricans onboard
until someone noticed. Many questions were never answered. No notice was
given to area residents of what was going to happen.
drilling, no whales have been reported in the area – the longest period
without whale sightings that anglers and guides in Drake Bay can
remember. No large dolphin superpods have been seen. The fishing is bad.
No wonder so few tourists seem to want to visit the area right now.
serious lack of ocean oversight has left locals wondering what is next.
There are reports of making a permanent drilling riser here and of
laying an undersea cable from the mainland to Caño Island and then
offshore to the rig.
Let’s hope an environmental impact study is
involved and that locals dependent on the area’s marine life are given
some notice so they can find new jobs. Because what’s next could be the
knockout punch for a good chunk of Costa Rica’s famous marine life:
whales, dolphins, turtles – and fishers and divers.
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