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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Dolphins still dying off the Osa Peninsula

What’s the difference between strip mining and purse seine netting?

One is wet and the other is dry. One is very visible, the other, hidden. One exterminates macaws and the other exterminates dolphins. Other than that, they are pretty much the same thing, just with different ecosystems destroyed and different animals killed.

So, you might think Costa Rica would be on top of it and leading the charge to protect dolphins from devastation.

Wrong. At the moment, Costa Rica is making big money from a fevered frenzy of marine life massacres.

At least we have a good neighbor. Panama sure sets a better big-blue eco-example than Costa Rica. The Panamanians recently stopped tuna dozers attacking dolphins and longlines killing sharks and billfish. Our southern neighbor banned these myopic, greedy activities in its waters, while Costa Rica lets the dozers and the lines wreak havoc and ecological disaster.

Panama did not just declare its waters a dolphin and whale sanctuary to make everybody feel good while continuing to let the nets and lines roll, as Costa Rica has. Panama banned the nets within 200 miles off its shores. Many nations with any sort of concern for their national eco-heritage do something similar.

dolphins 2

A spinner dolphin blows bubbles off the Osa Peninsula.

Shawn Larkin

President Laura Chinchilla obviously understands the value of banning ecological destruction; that’s why she stopped the nets in southwestern Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce and around Isla del Coco National Park, 365 miles off the Pacific coast. But what about the rest of the country? Her predecessor, Oscar Arias, declared the entire country a cetacean sanctuary to no discernible effect. The dolphins are still dying. Chinchilla knows how to stop the nets; I hope she knows about all the dolphins that need her help.

Because it is not sustainable. The superpods of hundreds to thousands of dolphins congregating in one area seem to be getting smaller and smaller, faster and faster. One tuna fleet crewman told me his bosses say the offshore Osa Peninsula area will be “fished out” in a few years, so they want a good run now before they move operations elsewhere. In other words, ecological collapse is on its way.

This area off the southern Pacific coast is proving to be perhaps the premier dolphin congregation area in the world. Already featured in the Disneynature and Galatee Films movie “Oceans” and in a host of documentaries, the area is on this year’s hot list of top places in the world to see. Visitors coming to see the Osa blue-water pelagic include some of the biggest superyachts in the world, as well as some big-name film crews producing yet more documentaries, including a full-length one on the superpod wildlife phenomenon.

The question is: Do we cash in on ecological collapse for a few more years before bowing to public pressure and shame? Or do we cash in on sustainable superpods para siempre, forever? We could fully develop a big economic generator for a remote region. Superyachts and film crews spend quite a bit of money all over Costa Rica, as do all the safari-goers, divers and sportfishers who visit the area.

Sadly, Costa Rica’s position on the dolphin slaughter seems clear. Recently, as we cruised on a superyacht alongside countless dolphins, whales, tuna and seabirds in Osa’s blue-water pelagic, a tuna dozer’s helicopter began to buzz us. The superyacht clients, enjoying what they said was the grandest wildlife spectacle they had ever seen, asked what the helicopter pilot was saying on the radio. The translation, given as a giant tuna ship, after receiving coordinates from the helicopter, was bearing down on the people and the pod, was: “You people need to move away or someone could get hit.”

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