Panacetacea: Humpback Whale Survey

Posted May 10, 2015

The Pacific coast of Panama hosts a population of humpback whales that makes one of the longest migrations of any mammal, from their feeding areas off Antarctica and Chile to their breeding area off Central America. Every year hundreds of humpback whales arrive in the Gulf of Chiriqui in Panama, where Panacetecea’s study, supported by The Mooore Charitable Foundation, is based. Researchers spend twenty to thirty days surveying in boats during the peak-sighting season in August and September. These surveys are spent searching the Gulf of Chiriqui for whales.

Once sighted, data collection will span sighting location, number of whales seen, behaviors, and photographs of tail flukes to identify them individually. These photographs are shared with colleagues in other regions to identify joint sightings of particular whales, which provide an important understanding of migratory routes and destinations. Panacetecea also monitors for whales acoustically, stopping at 30-60 minute intervals to listen with a hydrophone for males that may be singing. During these surveys, the organization also collects data on other marine mammals sighted, including several species of dolphins and other large whales such as the Bryde’s whale. Panacetecea welcomes student interns on surveys and has been working with students from Universidad Marítima Internacional of Panama to help train the next generation of Panamanian marine mammal scientists.