Whale Watching Panama

You are listening to the mysterious Humpback whale's song recorded on one of our tours in the Pearl Islands last year.

Nobody knows why the whales sing.  It was first thought to be used by the males to attract the females, but the females tend to ignore the singing males.  It may be some kind of male bonding activity, because if one male is singing, often times other males in the area also start to sing too. 

Whale Song

 Humpback whales are known for their mysterious songs. The males are the ones who sing, and often do so hanging vertical and face down in the water. The songs last about 20 minutes long. The songs are only sung in the breeding areas.  The fascinating part is that all the males in one region sing the exact same song, and males in other regions, such as Hawaii or Australia sing a different song. Each year the song changes a bit. 


The song can be heard from as far as 20 miles away.  We use a hydrophone to let you listen to the whale song.  If we are close enough, it is easy to hear the whale's singing through the hull of the boat on the surface, but our favorite place to listen to this enchanting song is by diving in and floating on the surface. 


A female can breed as early as 5 years old, but normally they do not give birth to their first calf until the age of 8 years old.  The female is pregnant for 11 months.  That means she will get pregnant here in Panama, migrate back to the polar region to feed before she arrives back here in our warm, shallow waters to give birth.   


The calves will stay with the mother and nurse for approximately 1 year before they set out on their own.  We have seen mothers with yearling calves but that is not normal.  The mothers with newborn calves often spend a lot of time very close to shore, presumably to avoid potential predators and even the pushy Rowdy groups of males.

Mating & Breeding

 Male Humpback whales are often found in what we call Rowdy groups. Rowdy groups are a group of 3-10 males who compete and fight with each other for the attention of the females. They will often chase a lone female until a mating pair is selected and the lucky male leaves with the female. No one knows if it is the female or male who makes the choice. We do know that finding a Rowdy group guarantees a great show to watch.
Panama and Costa Rica is the only region in the world that receives Humpback whale migrations from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.  From late June to mid October we have over 2,000 humpback whales in our waters from Antarctica.  This is the longest mammal migration known to man, over 6,000 miles (over 9,000 km) and the only migration to cross the equator.  From Late November to March we also receive about 300 humpback whales from North America too.

One fascinating fact about migrating Humpbacks is that while they are in Panama to breed and give birth, they do not feed at all!  They can be in our waters for 4 months without eating anything.  Imagine that the females who arrive pregnant, give birth here and feed their calves between 50-100 gallons (190- 375 liters) of milk each day and are not eating a thing to replenish their energy.  They arrive here fat and leave here quite a bit skinnier and are eager to arrive back in their polar feeding waters.
Breaching    A Breach, or a complete jump out of the water is an activity that we see almost every day on our tours.  Sometimes close, sometimes far off in the distance.  Nobody knows exactly why whales breach.  Some theories are that the males breach to show off how strong and healthy they are to the females, but females and calves also breach too.  Other theories are that by breaching the whales can knock off bothersome parasites, or maybe to look around above the surface and it may simply be because it is fun!  No matter what the reason behind the breach, it is an instant crowd pleaser when you see a whale breaching on a tour.
Pectoral Slap    or also known as a Pec Slap, is when the humpbacks raise their long pectoral (or side) fins in the air and slap them down hard on the water, making a loud slapping sound as the flat fin hits the water.  Humpback whales are easily identified by their very long pectoral fins, which are 1/3 of their full body length.  A humpback whale's pectoral fins can be 15 feet(4 meters) long!  In fact, their scientific genus name, Megaptera translates to Big Wing, referring to their long pectoral fins.
Tail Slap    Humpback whales will sometimes raise their tails out of the water and forcefully slap them down on the surface repeatedly.  Nobody knows exactly why they do this.  It could be a sign of aggression, irritation, dominance or simply fun.
Logging    Whales will often rest on the surface, simply floating quietly often resembling a log floating.  Thus the term "logging" for this behavior.
Spout or Blow    Whales, being mammals who breathe air, must come to the surface to breathe.  When they do so, they let out an explosive burst of air, often as they are still just below the surface of the water.  This powerful exhale pushes the water around them up into what looks like a 15 foot tall puff of white smoke or steam.  The Spout is often the first thing we see when we are searching for whales. It can be visible for quite a distance across the water.
Flukes Up  Whales will often raise their tail flukes as they are preparing to dive or stay underwater for an extended period of time.
Spyhop  A spyhop is when a whale raises his head straight out of the water.  This is done mainly so the whale can see above the surface.
Humpback whales have a stocky body and are the only whale with bumps known as tubercles on the top of their heads. Tubercles are actually enlarged hair follicles. You can easily see the tubercles on the humpback picture at the top of this page.

Humpback whales are known as rorquals, a subgroup of the Baleen whales. Baleen are long fibrous plates in the mouths of all baleen whales. These whales do not have teeth, but instead use the baleen plates to filter out their food such as krill (small shrimp like creatures) and small fish.

Size: Females up to 50 feet (15 meters) and males up to 45 feet (13.7 meters). Calves are 10-15 feet (3-4 meters) at birth. Adults weigh approximately 1 ton per foot of length so around 50 tons and calves are about 1 ton at birth. Adult Humpbacks are about the same size as a city bus.

Habitat & Range

 Humpback whales are found in all subpolar oceans around the world. They feed in temperate and polar areas that are rich in nutrients and their favorite foods, krill and small fish. They migrate during the polar winters to tropical and subtropical waters to give birth and breed. 

Behaviors 

 Here are some common behaviors that you are likely to see on your whale watching tour.


 Humpback Whales



Humpback whales are known as the acrobats of the sea for putting a great show at the surface. Breaching (full out of water jumps) pec slaps (pectoral fin slapping)
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Physical Description    

Humpback whales are the 4th largest whale on earth. Their scientific name is 
Megaptera novaeanglieae,
which is Latin for Big wing from New England. They are called this as they have the longest pectoral (side) fins of any whale and were first discovered off the coast of New England.


Humpback Whales

Humpback Whales are known as the acrobats of the sea because they spend a lot of time at the surface putting on a fantastic show of pectoral fin or tail slapping, breaching, spy hopping or simply resting at the surface. Watching the humpbacks is one of the most satisfying species to watch because you never know when they might breach (jump) completely out of the water and they are often curious about the boats and come super close, sometimes even swim right under us to do a little people watching of their own. 
Here is some information about Humpback whales to prepare you for your tour.














Humpback Whales