Training for new whale tour guides

Artisanal fishermen and boatmen in the Gulf of Montijo, on the Pacific coast of Veraguas Province, now have a new opportunity to launch a small business and earn income from responsible ecotourism, a way to enjoy the sea without jeopardizing its natural resources or the ecosystem.

The first group of 27 boatmen have now been trained to become tour guides on whale watching trips, aiming to put Panama on the map alongside other countries, like Argentina, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, that are well-known destinations for whale watchers.

Fundación MarViva, an ocean advocacy NGO, took the first step towards this goal by starting a training program for fishers and boaters in the Montijo and Chiriquí Gulfs, seeking to use their knowledge of the sea and boating to turn them into responsible whale watching guides in Panama.

In the opinion of Rómulo Pineda, owner of a small tour company in this region, the most important aspect of the program is that it is geared for small-scale boatmen who have spent most of their lives fishing and exploiting other coastal resources.

Mariano Ortiz, representative of the Río Grande de Soná township, said that the initiative will have a positive economic impact on coastal areas, where traditional activities such as artisanal fishing are no longer profitable, by providing fishermen with access to new income-generating activities.

Fundación MarViva's Science and Communities manager Isis Pinto explained that in Panama a regulation on whale and dolphin watching enforces how closely boats may approach the animals, the length of the tour and other parameters that boatmen must follow when giving tours of this nature.

Along Panama's Pacific coast, the months of February and April and from June to November are the best times to view humpback whales and other cetacean species.