On Sunday, the 2nd of January, Project Costa Rica is planned to begin. Before the scientists hop on board, all of this week, there will be blog posts written by each one of the scientists shared to our newsfeed. To learn more about Project Costa Rica Click Here.
Observing Marine Mammal Species in Costa Rica - Thomas Stone
I am very excited to be joining the Seas Your Future ‘Project Costa Rica’ sailing voyage as a Scientist in Residence at the beginning of January 2022. I will be running a project investigating marine mammal diversity and abundance throughout this 12 day voyage along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, during which I hope to spot many of the 28 species of marine mammal that live in this region.
The primary purpose of this voyage is to provide Costa Rican students with the opportunity to learn how to sail and develop their English language skills. I am keen to engage with the students on board who will be welcome to get involved with my project if they would like to.
Excitingly, the Pacific coast of Costa Rica forms a hotspot of marine mammal diversity containing 30% of all cetacean species worldwide (cetaceans include whales, dolphins and porpoises). This diversity is in large part due to an upwelling bringing cool, nutrient rich water to the surface off the coast here, providing a food source for a wide range of organisms and in turn for marine mammals.
One of the most famous inhabitants of the area is the humpback whale, with the Pacific coast of Costa Rica forming an important breeding ground for two different populations of these whales. Humpback whales undergo one of the longest migrations of all mammals. Some humpbacks have been known to travel as far as 5200 miles in each leg of their migrations, further than the distance from London to Beijing! Hopefully, we will see humpbacks that have migrated to Costa Rica all the way from the Western US coast, from California to as far North as Alaska.
One of my aims for the voyage is therefore to take photos of these whales to identify individuals from the patterns on their tails, matching whales that we see to those from an existing database to try to establish where they might have come from.
A further aim is to carry out systematic marine mammal surveys throughout our voyage. Despite their diversity, the marine mammals that live off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica are relatively understudied. These marine mammals face a range of serious threats. Many smaller marine mammal species face high mortality rates, whilst the Northern population of humpback whales is thought to be declining. Because of these reasons, it is important to carry out regular surveys in the area to help investigate population trends and inform necessary conservation measures. With Seas Your Future hoping to come back to the area in future years, this is a great opportunity to set up a long-term monitoring project, obtaining data that can be compared to try to establish longer-term marine mammal population and distribution trends.
I am looking forward to arriving in Costa Rica and getting started on the project soon, and I can’t wait to see which marine mammal species we will be lucky enough to observe!
Humpback whale breaching. Image credit: Todd Cravens