Contadora Island, Saboga, Panama
Finding 50 Ton Friends in PanamaThe boat's gassed up, our timing, perfect. Humpback whales and dolphins are making their annual trek from the chilly waters of Antarctica to the shallow warm bays of Panama to birth their young. American Anne Gordon de Barrigon, owner of Whale Watching Panama, is taking us from Panama City's Balboa Yacht club to explore Contadora, one of the Pearl islands and setting for three seasons of the reality show, Survivor. As big as a city bus, you would think Humpback whales would be easy to spot, but they can be shy. With a little luck, we'll find these gentle giants.
As it happens, they find us.
Passing Panama City's skyline and navigating through the giant cargo ships waiting their turn to transit the Canal, Anne tells us to look for the tell tale sign of a whale: blow spouts and a smooth water footprint on the surface. After trolling for an hour, a majestic 50 foot female and her calf introduce themselves with first a peaceful surface, then a giant wave of fin so close to our boat, we could have reached our arms around it. They are not alone. Listening on a specially equipped radio to the sounds below, we hear the male whales singing, like a lonely boy band a hundred feet below. Anne explains that only the males sing - and the females ignore it. For reasons unknown, all the whales in Panama sing only one song, while whales in Australia sing a different tune. Also a mystery - their song changes every year. It's beautifully eery, like long lost friends trying to find each other across miles of ocean. It renders you silent, appreciative of the mysteries of the deep.
Our ride back to Panama City is equally as exciting with our escorts - a pod of hundreds of spotted dolphins, racing our boat, chattering like girlfriends, and jumping out of the water in their own aquatic circus. As we stop to watch their show, it makes you realized Panama has so many wild and wonderful secrets like this, just waiting to be revealed.