WHALE WATCHING SAILING TOUR ON A 14 METRES SAILING CATAMARAN
Each year, the humpback whales leave Antarctica to migrate northwards to their tropical calving grounds, especially towards the Pearl Islands.
The first groups to be seen in Panama are usually the newly pregnant females, followed by the immature whales of both sexes, and then come the mature males and females. Mothers with new-born calves stay longest, and travel more slowly, enabling the calves to grow rapidly and develop a thicker layer of blubber for protecting in the cold feeding waters of Antarctica which they soon will be visiting for the first time.
Whales are divided into the toothed whales (i.e.: sperm and killer whales) and the baleen whales (like humpbacks). Toothed whales feed on squid, fish, and sometimes marine mammals. Baleen whales sieve planktons from the water. All are air-breathing, warm-blooded mammals that give live birth and nurse their young. They range in size and weight from the 31-metre blue whale, the world’s largest, weighing between 80 and 130 tonnes, to the 2.4-metre dwarf sperm whale, weighing about 150 kilograms. They have streamlined, smooth-surfaced bodies, no external ears, flippers like forelimbs for steering and manoeuvring, very few hairs, and a layer of insulating blubber. These characteristics make them ideally suited to their marine environment.
In Panama the most commonly seen whales are humpback whales.
The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is aptly named from the Greek ‘mega’ meaning ‘great’ and ‘pteron’ meaning ‘a wing’, because of its huge winglike flippers. It is the fifth largest of the great whales. Adult females grow to 19 metres, slightly longer than adult males. A mature humpback may weigh 40 tonnes.
Humpbacks are generally blackish with white underneath and at the sides. The flippers or pectoral fins are mottled on top and white below. The underside of the tail fluke usually is white with black patterning, by which each animal can be identified. Jaws and flippers often carry large barnacles. Knobby protuberances on the head are called tubercles, each with a long coarse hair growing from its centre which is believed to act as a sensor like a human hair.
Communication and Song
Sound generally travels three times faster and further under the water than in the air, which makes it an ideal medium for communication. While all whales are able to emit sounds, the humpback seems unique in the diversity of vocalisations it produces. Some of the sounds of humpbacks are organised into repeating patterns which are described as ‘songs’.
Singing seems to be done mainly be males in the breeding season. Singers seem to prefer to suspend themselves head down about 20 metres below the surface of the water. Their eyes remain closed, their tails point skywards and their pectoral fins slowly move forward and back. A singing whale typically stays down for 15 minutes or so.
Songs change within and between seasons and are some of the longest and most varied of the animal kingdom.