It is that sad time of year again...we have officially ended our 2014 humpback whale field season in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Panama. We spent 35 days on the water collecting data from the end of July through mid-September and now it will take us months to go through all of the data! It’s not as much fun to look at the computer screen as it is being on the ocean with the whales, but it is an important part of the process and we enjoy seeing the results all of our hard work unfold as we go through the photos and write our reports. We will try to post updates as we go through the data and will post some of our favorite pictures soon.
In the meantime we would like to thank EVERYONE who helped us this year: The Moore Charitable Foundation and private donors who helped to fund this work. Everyone at the Islas Secas who provided logistical support. And all of the interns and volunteers this year who were a HUGE help. See below for photos of most who helped. Thanks to all of you!
Thanks to all who helped and to those who followed this blog!
Last weekend the Islas Secas arranged for a group of school children from a nearby community to spend a day with us whale watching and learning about marine life. We had a great time with these enthusiastic kids! We saw whales within just a few minutes of leaving the dock and judging from their oohs and aahs these kids were impressed with the four different groups of whales we saw on our way to the Secas. Then we had lunch together on the island and spent some time discussing marine mammals and what we can do to help marine life. It was a really fun day. Thanks Islas Secas for making this happen!
The calm, shallow warm waters of the Chiriqui Gulf seem like the perfect place for humpback whale calves to be born. We often see moms and babies lazing at the surface of the water or traveling slowly, everything peaceful and calm. However, this year we have seen several "competitive groups" that include a small calf. Competetive groups are when a group of males are competing to mate with a female, and involve agressive behavior between the males. It's a bit alarming to see very small calves amongst fully grown adults who are hurling their bodies at each other.
Here are some photos of seabirds we commonly see during our surveys
For the second time this year we've had a “friendly” humpback whale approach our boat very closely and spend some time swimming underneath and around us. This time the whale actually surfaced right underneath our bow and was so close we could have touched it. What was so amazing was the control this huge animal had over its body. It never actually touched our boat although it was only inches away.
We got some nice underwater footage of the whale "spy-hopping" near us. Keep in mind the wide-angle lens on our GoPro makes this whale look farther away than it actually was!
The other day it was too windy for us to look for whales, so we spent some time helping clean up one of the beaches at the Islas Secas. There was a total of 7 of us and we filled up 7 large garbage bags in about 30 min. The garbage this year in the ocean and washing up on beaches has been truly staggering.
We have been really excited this year to see a handful of Bryde's whales (pronounced "Brew-dus" and named for Johan Bryde, a Norwegian whaler). This is a large baleen whale which can be difficult to distinguish from a sei whale, which is similar in size and coloration. One of the distinguishing features of the Bryde's is the presence of three lateral ridges on the head. We have been able to get pictures of the head that show the ridges and confrim that we are seeing Bryde's whales. This year so far we have had five sightings of individuals (the shape of the dorsal fin can be used to identify individuals). We love our humpbacks, but it's always exciting to see different species!
By Cole Rachman
The team has been hearing a lot of whale songs in the field with the help of the hydrophone we have on board. We have even been fortunate enough to hear a few singers without the assistance of the hydrophone because of how close these males have been approaching the boat and because of how loud they are projecting these “love calls”. For the most part the sounds the whales make consist of creaks, groans and moans, however they can get pretty interesting and often have us giggling aboard. Here is a short segment of a 20 minute recording that we got from a singer just outside of the Islas Secas!
Yesterday was a slow day for whales, so we spent some time with a group of spotted dolphins (we don't discriminate)! This group had 4 mother calf pairs in it. Here's some underwater footage of them swimming alongside our boat.