Day 7, low, low tides, and a trip to Islas Contreras — kingdom of the bryde’s whale

This morning we got a little complacent about an early departure, and our trusty research vessel Chiripanga got stuck inside the bay due to the extreme low tides associated with the full moon this time of the month. Since we couldn’t cross the reef, I figured at least I could snorkel it for about an hour until the tide started to come back. I was rewarded with a myriad of beautiful coral reef fishes, and at some point I even had a hawksbill sea turtle AND a much bigger olive Ridley sea turtle swimming together side by side. Where was the GoPro to prove it?!

R/V Chiripanga just inside the reef we couldn’t cross this morning due to the extreme low tide
We waded in the shallows and snorkeled in the reef while waiting for the tide to come back

Our survey today took us to the Islas Contreras, another nearby cluster of islands that harbors great humpback whale densities during the austral season. Today it was empty of humpbacks. We did briefly catch a glimpse of a juvenile whale shark near the surface, and even though we had the GoPro ready this time, it dove quickly as we approached it. But humpbacks are not the only large whale species that can be found in these waters. Our research in previous years has shown that Contreras is a hotspot for Bryde’s whales, and today it proved itself again: about half way between Secas and Contreras we encountered a pair of Bryde’s whales. Typical for the species, they were rather elusive and we were not able to get close. But at least they kept our skills fresh until we encounter some humpbacks.

We have a network of informants among the fishers and other mariners in the Gulf, and even though we haven’t encountered humpbacks lately, we keep getting reports of others seeing them here and there. So the search continues.

The green circles show the concentration of Bryde’s whale sightings at the Contreras from a previous survey. The figure is from: Rasmussen, K. and D.M. Palacios. 2015. Update on humpback whale research in the Gulf of Chiriqui, western Panama, 2014. Paper SC/66a/SH/16 presented to the IWC Scientific Committee Annual Meeting, May 2015, San Diego, USA. 8pp.
Survey trackline for day 7 in dark green, previous days in light green

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