It is humpback whale season in Panama

The humpback whales are back on the Pacific Coast of Panama and there have been lots of humpback whale sightings right here in the Bay of Chame!

Humpbacks visit Panama’s Pacific coast every year between July and October, during their annual southern migration. There is also a small Northern migration of humpback whales in Panama, that migration takes place from Dec - April. 

Long-term data from a group of scientists and environmentalists, Panacetacea, has shown that Panama is an important nursery area with 50% of groups containing a calf.

With the Panama Canal, and a lot of activity in the water around the small isthmus, a protection plan is vital for humpbacks in Panama to thrive. 

Leadership in Marine Conservation Efforts in Panama 

In 2014, Hector Guzmán of the Smithsonian Institute worked with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to create regulations for ships navigating in and out of the Panama Canal. This work has successfully helped reduce collisions between vessels and humpback whales on their migration route. 

Under his guidance, a multidisciplinary team successfully expanded the Coiba Cordillera marine-protected area in the Panama Pacific, which was recently signed off by the president. 

While these are significant strides toward conservation, there is still much work to be done in implementing and enhancing efforts to protect marine life in Panama. 

In the meantime, incredible marine life, such as whales, manatees, and dolphins, rely on human support.

How to see Humpback Whales in Panama

You do not need a whale-watching tour in Panama to catch a glimpse of the humpback whales in Panama. Seeing humpback whales in Panama is almost a guarantee if you are visiting from July to October (if you are planning on taking a boat from Panama City to Contadora Island, or anywhere on the Azuero Peninsula). 

If you are in Coronado Whale Watching tours are available from Vista Mar Marina, where you are likely to see whales near Isla El Otque. 

Humpback whales are known for their impressive acrobatics, such as breaching, tail slapping, and spy hopping, which makes them a thrilling sight to behold. However, it’s important to remember that these are huge wild animals, they need space. 

One of the major benefits of whale-watching tours in Panama is that they are conducted under strict regulations to protect both the whales and the humans. The tour also provides interesting information about the whales’ behavior and ecology and sometimes has a sonogram on board to listen to the whales’ sing. 

Humpback whales are a fascinating species, and whale-watching tours can offer a unique opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, in a responsible way.

That being said not all tours are created equal. When participating in a whale-watching in Panama you can help by encouraging others to follow guidelines created for Humpback whale and dolphin watching in Panama

Whale Watching Etiquette 

There are rules in place in Panama and in many countries to protect whales and dolphins from human activity. That being said what is often lacking is a system to ensure these rules are being enforced. Resolución Nº DM-0144-2022 states that the following rules are to be observed when whale watching in Panama: 

  • Maximum 2 boats observing one pod at a time 
  • 100 m from a dolphin pod, or 250 from whales 
  • Always stay parallel or a bit behind to keep a speed less than the slowest animal 
  • Do not change the course of the animals in the water
  • It is prohibited to snorkel or dive with whales 
  • The time spent with one pod must not be more than 30 mins 
  • The speed of the boat should be under 4 knots (7km/h)

A cautionary Tale 

Dec. 2020 a report in the scientific journal Frontiers in Marine Science, on the behavior of whales in the presence of numerous boats. was published providing information on how human encounters are affecting whales. 

The findings published were from information gathered by observing tours that were following closely and getting in the water with whales.

The report shows that in these cases whales were encouraged to change course and dive for a long period. Among other Irregular behaviors. 

Guzmán who coauthored the report writes about the findings saying: 

“The mother forces the calf to follow her, but the calf doesn’t have the strength yet to keep up,” 

 “One time, after being chased for a long time by tourist boats, the mother stopped and her calf climbed on top of her, and they just stayed there, exhausted, in front of us. It was heartbreaking. I wanted to shout at the tourists and guides that this was not a cute show for their videos and pictures, it was not a natural thing. They had caused it.”