Project Highlights

High concentrations of breeding humpback whales in the Gulf of Panama risk death and injury through collisions with container and tanker ships
Smithsonian scientists used coordinates from ARGOS satellites from tagged whales to study their habitat use
This effort is the first to use satellite data from whale and vessel tracking to design a restricted traffic scheme for ships moving into and out of the Gulf of Panama
Year-round shipping lanes and four-month seasonal speed restrictions are expected to reduce whale-ship interactions by 93 percent
Topics: Species

Tens of thousands of commercial ships cross the Gulf of Panama to reach the Panama Canal and its Pacific ports. Disastrous, sometimes fatal collisions with ships often result from the combination of this maritime traffic with high concentrations of breeding humpback whales in the area. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute marine biologist Hector M. Guzman used satellite tracking data to compare the movement of humpback whales in Panama’s Las Perlas Archipelago with the courses of hundreds of container and tanker ships over the course of six seasons. Working over three years with the Panama Maritime Authority, the Panama Canal Authority, and the Panama Chamber of Shipping, Hector helped local partners steer the policy into law. Approved by the Republic of Panama and adopted by the International Maritime Organization, the Panamanian shipping lanes were implemented in December 2014. The first such lanes to use satellite tracking data in their planning, they are expected to drastically improve protection for humpback whales and other species in the area.