Hundreds of tourists visited Parque Nacional Marino Ballena on the Pacific Coast to enjoy the festival and take advantage of discounted whale watching trips.
The lucky visitors experienced the spectacle of humpback whales in their natural habitat, in boats accompanied by dolphins.
WSPA, part of the Coalition, supports ethical whale watching as an alternative to the cruelty of whaling. This sustainable industry – now worth US$1.25 billion each year – is both humane and has clear benefits for coastal communities.
“There are many studies that prove how profitable is the whale watching industry for communities who do it responsibly”, said Marcela Vargas, WSPA programme manager for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
Member societies make a difference
PROMAR, a WSPA member society, has assisted in managing the national park and trained local people in sustainable tourism, whale watching and dealing with beachings since 2001.
Thanks to their work, and that of the Keto Foundation and other member societies, some local fishermen are now trained tour operators who focus on humane whale and dolphin watching.
Case study: Making a compassionate living
Julio Badilla is an example of this approach’s success. A tour operator for 10 years, he has worked exclusively in whale and dolphin related tourism for the past five.
Julio previously worked as a fisherman and went through many difficult times. But today, partly thanks to the training and advice he has received from PROMAR and others, he is part of one of the most successful industries in the community of Bahia.
He no longer has to fish to supplement his income and support his children. Thanks to the popularity of whale watching, Julio’s tour business now owns seven boats and is a local employer, giving work to other captains at busy times.
He admits that he once knew nothing about whales, but today Julio and his fellow tour operators have founded a society in order to share the animal welfare practices that must be followed to protect the marine mammals that attract so much of their business.
First festival of many …
PROMAR president Javier Rodriguez heralded the Whale and Dolphin Festival as a great success, saying: “We are very motivated by the event because we were able to get many tourists to come.”
He is right to be optimistic: the busy beach scene at Playa Uvita proved the growing popularity of ethical whale watching.
Festival-goers Daisy Herrera and her husband Wilber Vargas had a typical response to their trip. Arriving back with huge smiles, they commented: “We saw a mother and calf playing together. It is a privilege to see these animals swimming freely in our own waters.”
On each new excursion, the captains tirelessly explained the need for the tours to move slowly and keep their distance to avoid stressing the whales – evidence of their training in action.
The Costa Rican Coalition for Whales will keep promoting whale watching and hopes to make the festival an annual event, encouraging even more people to enjoy this fun and compassionate activity and learn the importance of protecting these beautiful animals.