Nineteen species of cetaceans (families Balaenopteridae, Kogiidae, Physeteridae, Ziphiidae and Delphinidae) occur in the Costa Rican Pacific Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Based on data recorded from the EEZ by the Southwest Fisheries Service Center, Cascadia Research Collective, and CIMAR between 1979- 2001, we mapped the distribution of 18 cetacean species. Our results suggest that the majority of the cetacean species use primarily oceanic waters, particularly those species within the families Balaenopteridae, Kogiidae, Physeteridae and Ziphiidae. Members of the family Delphinidae showed a wide variety of distribution patterns: seven species are widespread throughout the EEZ, four appear to be exclusively pelagic, and two are primarily coastal. Overall, three cetacean species appear to have populations concentrated in coastal waters: Stenella attenuata graffmani, Tursiops truncatus, and Megaptera novaeangliae. These three may be more susceptible to human activities due to the overlap of their ranges with fishery areas (tuna and artisanal fisheries), and an uncontrolled increase of touristic whale watching activities in several parts of their range. The distribution maps represent the first comprehensive representation of cetacean species that inhabit Costa Rican Pacific waters. They provide essential base-line information that may be used to initiate conservation and management efforts of the habitats where these animals reproduce and forage.
Keywords: conservation, central america, dolphins, marine mammals, whales