Golfo Dulce awarded Whale Heritage Site status

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The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) is thrilled to announce that Golfo Dulce has been awarded Whale Heritage Site status! Golfo Dulce is now the first Whale Heritage Site in Latin America, and one of only eight fully accredited Whale Heritage Sites worldwide.

The Whale Heritage Site programme is an initiative created by the WCA and supported by World Animal Protection, which recognises destinations around the world where coastal communities work together to protect, respect and celebrate cetaceans and their habitats.

Located along the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the embayment of Golfo Dulce is home to two species of dolphin: the bottlenose dolphin and pantropical spotted dolphin. It also provides welcoming waters for regular visitors such as false killer whales and humpback whales, who give birth and nurse their calves here.

Photo by Changing Tide Tours

In 2023, Golfo Dulce was designated an Important Marine Mammal Area by the expert-based Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, in connection with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), reflecting its significance as a habitat for cetaceans.

By law, all Costa Rican waters are deemed a whale and dolphin sanctuary, and the area of Golfo Dulce Whale Heritage Site has also been declared a Marine Area of Responsible Fishing. This designation, which effectively protects marine wildlife from commercial fishing and longline fishing within the gulf, was initiated through the local fishers’ association, demonstrating the fishing community’s interest in marine sustainability.

National whale and dolphin watching regulations are established and enforced through free training courses, billboard information, communications between tour operators, and reports of any non-compliance to the local authorities.

Photo by Pacific Ecology

As well as being protected by law, whales and dolphins are celebrated and appreciated by the people of Golfo Dulce with community events, public murals, and more! Throughout the year, free events are held at the Golfito Public Library to foster an appreciation for the value and wonder of cetaceans. These have included book readings, dorsal fin ID art workshops, and whale song musical presentations.

On 2-3 September 2023, Golfo Dulce’s first annual Whale Festival is being held in honour of the local cetaceans and the area’s new Whale Heritage Site status. Educational tables will provide information, play recordings of whale song and dolphin clicks, and encourage involvement in the planning of and family participation in future Whale Heritage Site activities.

The WCA is delighted to grant Whale Heritage Site status to Golfo Dulce in recognition of the community’s commitment to supporting and demonstrating the importance of cetaceans through conservation, sustainability, research, and cultural events. Congratulations to the Golfo Dulce Whale Heritage Site Steering Committee for all their fantastic efforts to achieve this designation!

Header photo of dolphin in Golfo Dulce by Dave Hamilton.

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