We are always excited to share our whale experiences with local school children. This year we had two school groups visit us, and both had great opportunities to see humpback whales. The kids also got a chance to visit a local beach for some beach cleanup and playtime. Thanks to Islas Secas for coordinating these visits!
by Emma Chereskin
Today we encountered a whale that had scars all the way down its back. The culprit? Ship propellers. Operating large machinery in this marine environment requires the utmost of caution as injuries and even fatalities can befall ocean life. For whales in particular, the larger concern is large shipping vessels as they are so big that they cannot easily maneuver to avoid hitting the whales. The propellers are also of a size that can inflict a lot of damage to these beautiful creatures. Scientists have worked on ways to mitigate this problem, and in some areas where heavy ship traffic and high whale density coexist, shipping lanes have been re-routed and ships are required to reduce their speeds in order to avoid collisions with whales.
Concerning other smaller cetaceans and marine life, such as sharks or sea turtles, smaller boats are more of an issue. The speed at which these boats travel often makes it hard for either the animal or the captain to get out of the way fast enough, inflicting serious injuries. One of the most talked about victims of smaller boats are Florida manatees. While some work has been done to protect these creatures in particular, more attention could be paid to the vast array of animals that this threat affects, such as seals and sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles and sharks. The ocean’s biodiversity is wonderful and astoundingly beautiful and we need to protect it from ourselves. The marine ecosystem needs biodiversity in order to function properly; every species plays a key role. Eliminating or harming one of these roles can have profound effects on other species in the ocean.
So remember: when operating a boat please be sure to drive with caution to avoid harming our beautiful wildlife! Hopefully there will come a year when we don’t see any propeller scars! Let’s get to work!
by Emma Chereskin
Taking pictures out on the boat today proved rather difficult as we battled 15ft. swell waves! High swells obscure our view of the whales and makes it extremely difficult to get shots of their flukes. We stayed with a group for about 10 minutes in the swells and eventually had to call it quits. The swells are not too swell for photo ID’s!
This time of year is known as the austral winter, which means that storms are a regular occurrence in the Southern Hemisphere. Waves from storms all the way down in Antarctica can travel northwards all the way to Panama and affect the waves here. Swells travel in the same way as light and sound: in wavelengths. Swells have also been known to travel up to 20,000km, halfway around the globe!
Hopefully the swells will die down soon and we can return to getting more fluke ID’s!
by Emma Chereskin
Just a quick update for everyone in the Panacetacea community! We have been out on the boat collecting some awesome data about the Chiriquí whales for about a week now and we’re having a whale of a time! We’ve just started to examine some fluke ID pictures and so far we are proud to announce that we have 47 individual fluke ID’s! These photos can be used to track individual whales over time, both within a field season and also between seasons. We also share our photos with researchers in other locations to determine migratory routes of these animals. Our goal for the year is 150 so let’s see what the whales have in store for us. Stay tuned for more updates!
by Emma Chereskin
This morning, rather than get right to work on humpback photo ID’s, the team submerged an underwater recorder off the Gulf of Chiriqui! We didn’t let the rain dampen our spirits as we headed out with the recorder and our “cangrejo concreto” (concrete crab). It is so heavy, it took four people just to get it into the boat! Pala, Jairo, and Pulo tied a buoy to the concrete crab and submerged it. The crab, designed by our very own Pulo (model adapted from the original designed of Ronald Monge Arias and Jorge May Barquero) helps the hydrophone to remain upright under the water. We wouldn’t want it floating away or falling over! Keeping it upright helps to capture sound more clearly. Pala and Jairo worked underwater for half an hour securing the recorder to the concrete crab. It slipped out of the bag as Pala was diving down, but he caught it before it floated away! Crisis averted!
This recorder will be submerged for the next 21 days, hopefully capturing the beautiful songs of the male humpbacks! These songs are incredibly complex, with different units, phrases, and themes making up a complete song. Scientists believe that male whales sing to attract females. Their songs are thought to be another way of saying, “Hello, ladies! I’m big, strong, and healthy. Look at me!” but they also may be a way for males to compete without getting into physical fights. Songs are also believed to provide information about the male’s size and experience. The whales here make the longest migration of any mammal, from Antarctica to Central America! They come to breed and give birth in the warm waters of the tropics. Perfect for their adorable calves!
While Kristin focuses mainly on photo ID’s and behavior, our colleagues Laura, Pala and I are mainly interested in the acoustics of these amazing creatures. There is just so much to learn about these awesome whales! Hopefully this recorder deployment will help us scratch the surface.
Stay tuned for updates on our whale friends! Before we sign off, we would like to thank Dr. Juan Jose Alvarado of CIMAR and the Department of Biology at the University of Costa Rica for allowing us to the use this amazing recorder and to Eduardo Polo, Director National de Costas y Mares, MI AMBIENTE, for helping us with the logistics of getting this recorder to Panama. We would also like to extend our gratitude to Keto for lending us Pala to coordinate the deployment, to Pulo for building the cangrejo concreto, and to Jairo and all the staff at Las Secas and the Moore Foundation for all of their wonderful support. None of this deployment would have been possible without our awesome collaborators.
The Panacetacea humpback whale project is back! After a one year hiatus we are resuming our study of the humpback whale population that migrates from southern hemisphere feeding areas to Panama each austral winter. We are charging our batteries, cleaning our cameras, and changing the oil on our outboard engines in anticipation of starting field work next week. We’re adding a few new elements to the research this year, so standby for updates!