Part of Panacetacea's mission is to educate locals about the marine life in Panamanian waters. We believe the more people know about their marine resources the more they will be interested in protecting them. Whales and dolphins are always a crowd pleaser, and we enjoy giving talks about marine mammals and the importance of conservation. This year we spoke with a group of locals at the Islas Secas after they had just had the opportunity to see whales during their boat trip to the island. One parent told me that after seeing the whales and then listening to our talk, her little girl said "Mama, the whales are my friends." We love being able to share our knowledge and enthusiasm for marine mammals and hope the next generation will continue conservation efforts!
A few days ago we were able to deploy our second bottom mounted hydrophone in the Gulf of Chiriqui. Last year we deployed one that recorded for two months, but this one will be able to record for up to 7 months. The hydrophone is programmed to record for 15 minutes every hour, and will be able to detect any male humpback whales that are singing in the area. Because whales from different populations sing different songs, these recordings will allow us to determine when humpback whales from the southern hemisphere leave, and when whales from the northern hemisphere arrive. This would be very difficult to do with boat observations only, so we are grateful to have this tool to help us monitor this population.
by Max Moreau
Yesterday was an exciting day for the Panacetacea research group at the Islas Secas. Although for fluke id’s it was one of the slower days with only four, the day started off with the placement of the long term hydrophone. The hydrophone this year is going to stay down for approximately 7 months, with the hope of capturing the full song of both the southern and northern populations of humpbacks. As the day went on we had some very exciting sightings, around mid-day there was a young calf that decided he wanted to practice fully breaching. He gave us a wonderful show for about a half hour. As day was getting late our captain incredibly saw a breach from about 3 miles out, drove us out to where he thought it was, we sat for about thirty seconds and the whales breached again not even 50 feet away. Not only had he seen them from impossibly far away he brought us spot on. There was a mother, calf and an escort. We were able to id the escort because he was actually doing slightly deeper dives to sing! He was following the the mother and calf and singing for them the whole way.
Yesterday we spent some time observing a group of males competing for primary position to mate with a female. We commonly see these kinds of groups (called "competitive groups") on the breeding area. They are always exciting to watch as there is usually lots of action as the males charge through the water and jostle for position in hot pursuit of the female. At one point, we saw the female raise her tail out of the water and hold it up for about 45 seconds. It's possible that she was not interested in mating and trying to get her genitals out of the water and away from the males. It gave us a great opportunity to get an identification photograph of the underside of her tail flukes!
We are all geared up and ready to go to continue our monitoring study of humpback whales in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Panama. This study has been ongoing since 2002, and we are thrilled to be back for our 15th year! Since we started this work we have identified 668 individual whales using their tail flukes, some of whom we've seen for multiple years. We are excited to see who we will see again this year, and add some new identifications to our catalog.
Yesterday we headed to the Islas Secas, which we use as our base of operations, with a boat full of research equipment, personal gear, and food (the most important). Because we were so laden with equipment we headed straight to the islands, which is a three hour trip from town in our boat. Of course, we always stop for whales and this transit day did not disappoint! We had over 15 whales in just a few hours and managed to get 11 individual whales identified. Moms and calves, singers singing, and breaching whales all greeted us on our first day on the water. We hope this means we will have a great field season! Please check back to see how we're doing!