On today’s survey we heard humpback song on several of our listening stations. At one point we also saw the distant blows of what appeared to be a mother/calf pair very close to one of the islands in the Secas group. But the wind chop was picking up and we were unable to relocate them before we had to return to roost for the day. Still, we are happy and encouraged that whales are here, and hope to find more to work within the next few days.
We also enjoyed the company of a mixed aggregation of spotted dolphins and brown boobies, which is a common sight in the Gulf of Chiriquí. And a pretty yellow-bellied sea snake paid us a brief visit while we were stopped for lunch.
Tomorrow our survey will take us to Coiba Island — a former penal colony turned a National Park, and also a famous scuba diving destination. Stay tuned!
Today we surveyed the open ocean while getting familiar with our new captain Chanin, and with our various equipment.
Given the expected low whale density we reduced our survey speed to 9 knots and stopped every 15-20 minutes to listen for humpback whale song. And it paid off: we heard distant song on three of our listening stations, so we know male humpbacks are engaged in courtship behavior here.
We also encountered a group of spotted dolphins early in the morning. But the day’s show was stolen by a large aggregation of false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens). We first heard their loud whistles on our hydrophone and then saw their large splashes from a distance. We stayed with them for about an hour as we moved from subgroup to subgroup to collect photo-IDs. We also collected three biopsies for DNA studies.
First day on the water today as we arrived in David, exited through the Chiriquí River estuary, and surveyed the waters around two island groups (Paridas and Secas). We didn’t see any whales or hear them on our hydrophones, but saw a small group of spotted dolphins. This area is great whale habitat and hopefully we’ll encounter some in the coming days.
In February 2018 Daniel Palacios of Oregon State Univeristy and Kristin Rasmussen of Panacetacea were in the Gulf Of Chiriquí, Panamá, surveying for humpback whales. Whales seen off Central America between December and April are migrating from feeding areas off California, Oregon and Washington. This population is still considered endangered (thought to number only ~400 animals). The objectives of this study were to document occurrence of humpback whales, presence of calves and singers, and to collecting photo-IDs and biopsy samples. This population was last surveyed in the Gulf of Chiriqui in 2003, 15 years ago. We kept a daily log of our discoveries and highlights of each day. Enjoy!