Whale watching in Panama allows you to connect with marine life in a unique and unforgettable way. By witnessing these majestic creatures in their wild habitat, you can get an intimate look at their natural behavior that is unlike any other. If you’re interested in this remarkable experience, this is everything you need to know about whale watching in Panama.
Why you should go whale watching in Panama
Panama is an incredible yet underrated whale watching destination. Part of what makes a whale watching experience in Panama so unique is that it’s one of two areas in the world where humpback whales from the north and south hemispheres migrate to give birth. The whale’s migration from Antarctica is one of the longest in the world as they travel an annual distance of 4,000 miles from their icy homes. It’s also the only migration that involves crossing the equator.
Despite this incredible phenomenon, few people are aware of Panama as a premier whale watching destination. Fortunately for visitors, this makes for an ideal and intimate whale watching experience. Viewers may even find themselves to be the only boat out on the water, which means they won’t have to worry about crowds spoiling the experience or blocking their view. Plus, fewer viewing boats are also safer for whales.
Best places to whale watch in Panama
There are many amazing whale watching locations all over Panama. Some of the most popular destinations include Pedasi, the Taboga Islands, Coiba, and Archipiélago de las Perlas. One of the best places to whale watch, however, is the Gulf of Chiriquí. This ocean oasis is located in Coiba Island’s marine protected area. As a result, the whales view the area as a safe and secure place to give birth and raise their young. Because of this security, the whales feel relaxed and comfortable enough to get close to the whale watching boats rather than shying away.
The best time to go whale watching in Panama
Peak whale watching season in Panama is between July and October, with the ideal time being throughout the month of September. It is during these months that over 2,000 humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to the country’s warm waters to give birth and raise their young. Due to a large number of whales that migrate to Panama during this time, viewers often experience a 95 percent success rate of seeing a whale on their excursion. Visitors also have a good chance of having a successful whale watching experience if they visit Panama between January and March. During this time, hundreds of humpback whales from the other side of the equator journey toward the warm water.
What you’ll see while whale watching in Panama
Humpback whales are undeniably the main attraction when it comes to whale watching in Panama. Fortunately, these whales know how to put on a good show. Humpback whales are the fourth-largest whale on earth and are known for their acrobatics which involves breaching or jumping completely out of the water. This is very common behavior and is incredible to witness due to the sheer size of the whales which can reach 50 feet (15 meters) long and weigh around 50 tons. Additional entertaining behaviors of the humpback whale include spouting or blowing, slapping their enormous pectoral and tail fins on the water’s surface, and spy hopping—this is when the whales curiously peak their heads out of the water to see what is going on above the surface.
In addition to your eyes, you should also keep your ears open while on a whale watching excursion in Panama. In breeding areas, humpback whales are known for singing their mysterious songs. These songs often last for roughly 20 minutes and guests can hear them from up to 20 miles away. Male humpback whales are the only ones who sing these songs; all the whales in a region will sing the exact same song. At times, passengers can hear the magical tunes echoing through the hull of their tour boat, however, if the whales are too far away, a hydrophone may be necessary.
Aside from humpback whales, individuals may spot other species of whales on Panama whale watching tours. These include blue whales, minke whales, whale sharks, sperm whales, and even orca whales. Dolphins also make frequent appearances. The tropical waters of Panama are home to twelve species of dolphins, seven of which reside on the Pacific side of the country. Common dolphins to spot on Panama whale watching tours include the pantropical spotted dolphin, the Pacific bottlenose dolphin, the spinner dolphin, and the short-beaked common dolphin. Additional marine life that you might spot along the turquoise coastline includes manta rays, sea turtles, and a wide range of exotic fish.
How to whale watch responsibly
While observing these majestic creatures of the deep, it’s extremely important to do so responsibly to prevent causing any damage to the whales or their habitat. While getting a great view of the whales is the goal of many whale watchers, their main priority should be to respect and protect marine life. It may be entertaining and exciting to get as close to the whales as possible but doing so can threaten the safety of both the passengers and the marine life.
As a general rule, boats shouldn’t get closer than 328 feet (100 meters) to an adult whale. If a mother whale is with her calf, this distance expands to 984 feet (300 meters). At times, curious whales will approach the boat on their own. If this occurs, the captain should turn off the motor of the boat or put the engine in neutral to prevent accidentally hurting the whales. As the name suggests, whale watching is about observing the creatures, not interacting with them or causing any disturbance to their natural habitat.
At Cala Mia Island Resorts, we offer responsible and exhilarating whale watching tours on the Gulf of Chiriquí—one of the best locations for whale watching on the Pacific Coast of both North and South America. We offer daily guided whale watching tours which include a beach stop over and refreshments to make for a day you’ll never forget.