This year was a smashing success! We were able to spend 28 days on the water and surveyed approximately 1400 miles (2200 km) mostly around the Islas Secas, but also near the Islas Paridas, Ladrones, and Contreras, all within the Gulf of Chiriquí.
We had 204 sightings of humpback whale groups which included a total of 455 whales and 91 calves. (In comparison, 2012 was our previous best year and we sighted a total of 277 whales that year). We photographically identified whales on 144 occasions; however the number of individuals identified will be lower since we repeatedly saw some of the same whales. We expect to have around 100 individuals identified once all of the photographs have been processed.
We were also thrilled to sight a Bryde’s whale near the Islas Contreras in addition to the usual sightings of many spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. False killer whales were also sighted in our study area.
I'm afraid my blog this year may have given the impression that being a whale scientist is all about watching whales leap out of the water and taking pretty pictures in a beautiful tropical setting. Well, now that the field work is over and the equipment has been cleaned and put away the real fun begins! We will spend many months processing literally thousands of photographs, entering data, and making maps and tables representing all the data collected. The field work becomes a distant memory as we toil in front of a computer screen. Luckily, looking at the pictures always brings us back to the lovely days we spent in the field. Here are some of our favorite photos from this year that we will look at over and over to remind us of a GREAT field season!
Many thanks to the Moore Charitable Foundation, The Islas Secas, and private donors for making this year happen!
Bity is a a presumed female that has been sighted since 2004. We got a skin biopsy a couple of days ago, now we'll find out if is actually a female and its relationship to other dolphins in the bay. Last July 2013, the Boca's community decided to change her name to Zip
Bity es presuntamente una hembra y la hemos visto desde el 2004. Hace un par de dias obtuvimos una biopsia de 'ella' y ahora podremos confirmar si efectivamente es una hembra y su relacion con otros delfines en el Archipelago. En Julio pasado, estuvimos en el parque donde muchos de ustedes votaron por cambiar el nombre de Bity a Zip.
One of my favorite types of humpback whale groups to see in the breeding area are the competitive groups (also called surface active groups, or rowdy groups). Typically these groups have one female, and the rest are males who are competing to mate with the female. This year we have seen MANY competitive groups, usually at least one every day. Most have been around 6-8 whales, but we have also had some larger groups, the largest was just a few days ago with 15 whales!
The whales get very aggressive with each other, and often you see blood on their
bodies. Although very rare, there have been reported cases of whales dying
during these aggressive encounters.
These sightings always have lots of action, and the whales surface more often than other group types, making them easier to follow.
We are in our last days of field work. It will be hard to leave as the whales are still plentiful and we are collecting lots of good data. Look for our final few posts in the next week.
One of the primary reasons humpback whales are migrating to the Gulf of Chiriqui here in Panama is to mate and give birth. We get to see a lot of moms and babies (also called cow-calf pairs) during our surveys, and we never get tired of seeing them. Even though the calves are already 12-15 feet when they are born, they seem very small next to mom. Here are some of our favorite photos from this year.
The field season is over for some of our interns. Here is Kata's last post. Thank you Kata for your blog posts and hard work!
It’s really hard to believe that the field season is already over for me. This was my first time doing field research and I completely fell in love with everything - being on the boat, seeing whales and jumping rays and dolphins and everything in between, and working with great biologists in beautiful places. We spent our last few days surveying the Islas Secas, Paridas, Ladrones, and Contreras, which was a much larger area than we have been able to reach in weeks past. The marine life and the weather were both cooperative and we were able to see a few new places. Kristin even took us snorkeling! I had never gone
before and I have to say catching a glimpse of the dynamic ecosystem at work is absolutely incredible. The whales seemed to know we were leaving - we saw at least one breaching whale every day this week, heard singing under the boat, and had our very first Bryde’s whale sighting this season! It has been a pleasure and a privilege working with Panacetacea this year. Thank you for everything! I hope I’ll be back again someday!