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LAS PERLAS SAILING Sailing Charter Las perlas Islands - WHALE WATCHING



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.


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.


The Rules for Whale Watching

Whales are intelligent, sensitive mammals. The following code has been prepared to encourage enjoyable and safe whale watching from boats, at the same time protecting these ‘gentle giants’.


  • Persons on private vessels (including everything from surfboards and kayaks to yachts and launches) do not require whale watching licences, but must adhere to these rules and guidelines governing whale watching.
  • Swimming with, feeding or touching whales is not permitted. Such actions may cause stress to the whale and are dangerous to people. If you are in the water and a whale approaches, you must endeavour to keep a minimum of 300 feet distance between yourself and the whale.
  • Any marine vessel, whether powered by a motor, paddle or sail that is within a distance of 100 metres (300 feet) from a whale is within the whale's contact zone. The following special rules apply within the contact zone:
    1. A vessel must not cause a whale to alter its direction or speed of travel.
    2. A vessel must not disperse or separate a group of whales.
    3. A vessel, whether under power or drifting, must not approach a whale from a direction within an arc of 60 degrees of the whale's direction of travel or an arc of 60 degrees of the whale's opposite direction of travel.
    4. A vessel must not approach a whale within a distance of 100 metres (300 feet).
    5. Where a whale approaches a vessel and the distance between the whale and the vessel becomes less than 100 metres, the vessel master must place its motor or motors in neutral or move the vessel at less than five knots away from the whale until the vessel is outside the contact zone.
    6. A vessel must not block the direction of travel of a whale, or any passage of escape available to a whale, from an area where escape is otherwise prevented by a barrier, shallow water, vessel or some other obstacle to the whale's free passage.
    7. A vessel master must abandon any interactions with a whale at any sign of the whale becoming disturbed or alarmed.
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