Panacetacea is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study and conservation of marine mammals in Panamanian waters. Since 2002, Panacetacea researchers have been studying humpback whales in the Gulf of Chiriqui, documenting their distribution, habitat use, and relative abundance in the region. Commercial whaling has decimated worldwide humpback whale populations and little was known about the status of humpback whales in Chiriqui before this study.
As part of this long-term study, Panacetacea has been identifying and cataloging individual humpback whales to determine population size and trends. Research now shows that whales sighted in the area between July and October are migrating from feeding areas off Chile and Antarctica, one of the longest migrations known of any mammal. A further discovery is that a smaller subset of whales in this area sighted between December and April are migrating from feeding areas off California, Oregon and Washington, making Chiriqui one of the few places in the world that serves as a breeding area for two populations – one from the Southern Hemisphere and one from the Northern Hemisphere.
In 2012, Panacetacea partnered with The Moore Charitable Foundation’s regional affiliate to increase survey efforts from the Islas Secas, an ideal location for this work. This partnership has helped Panacetacea more than double the breadth of research and data collection, surveying more than 6,000 kilometers, sighting more than 1,000 whales, and photo-identifying more than 300 individuals, using the unique markings on the undersides of their flukes. This effort has put Islas Secas on the map as a significant nursery area for this population, with over half of the sightings containing a mom and calf. Also notable is an increase in relative abundance over the last two years, suggesting that this population is recovering since being depleted by whaling.
Current threats to whale populations such as climate change, coastal development, and interactions with boats can be detected with long-term datasets and the results of this study will help to identify the most crucial threats in order to ensure the proper conservation measures are implemented.
“With the support of The Moore Charitable Foundation, Panacetacea has been able to collect as much data in the three years of our partnership as we collected in the first nine years of our project. This partnership has also allowed us to be strategically based at the Islas Secas, which is right in the center of all the whale activity. Our overall understanding of the humpback whales that visit the Gulf of Chiriqui has expanded dramatically and will hopefully lead to proper conservation measures in this area, which will be beneficial to not only humpback whales but all marine species.”
– Panacetacea staff
Read more about Panacetacea here.