Whales, baby sharks and supermoons

This post is also available in: Spanish

By Ilene Little

Take a walk to an island on a supermoon low tide.

Take a walk to an island on a supermoon low tide.

To the nature lover, nature displayed a trifecta of seaside surprises last week. While on a whale-watching cruise we saw whales, swam with baby sharks and explored the ocean floor for treasures during a supermoon low tide.

Mogo Mogo is one of the Pearl Islands near Contadora where we went for whale watching. There is nothing more exciting than seeing the broad back of an enormous humpback surface close to your boat, except for what happened next – swimming with baby sharks.

Dozens of baby black-tip sharks were in the surf a meter from the shore. They all appeared to measure between two and two and a half feet long and swam in a shiver as they darted all around us at the shoreline in knee-high water. Soon the bravest among us were snapping underwater pictures hoping to capture the experience on film.

At the Pearl Islands, a whale watching excursion leads to exciting and unexpected adventures

The supermoon topped off the list of weekend adventures. Because of the extreme low tides, we were able to walk or wade from shore to islands that, any other time of year, are accessible only by boat or by swimming a distance in the open ocean for a mile or more.

Whale Watching

Whale Watching

Walking the exposed ocean floor was like walking on the moon. With mask and snorkel fins in hand, tourists and island residents alike were seen combing the exposed landscape at low tide for the treasure of new sights and experiences.

Weekends like that tend to peak your interest in finding out more about what you saw, for example, why the tides were so low, and why baby sharks were congregating in schools so close to shore. Here is what I found out:


“Supermoon” is a term coined by astronomers indicating new moons or full moons closely coinciding with the moon’s closest point to Earth in its orbit. The effect of a supermoon is larger-than-usual tides.

According to Bruce McClure and Deborah Byrd of Earthsky.org, we will experience a total of five supermoons in 2014. These are the two new moons of January, and the full moons of July, August and September. Panama’s next supermoon will occur on August 10, 2014 at 18:09 UTC, and September 9 at 1:38 UTC. The August 10th full moon will be the closest supermoon of the year (356,896 kilometers or 221,766 miles).

Baby black tip sharks

A black tip baby shark.

A black tip baby shark.

Young black tip sharks spend the first months of their lives in shallow nurseries. The mother sharks will return to the nurseries where they were born to give birth, areas like lagoons and estuaries. What we witnessed indicates Isla Mogo Mogo is a birthing destination and shark nursery location of at least one or more genetically distinct breeding stock of black tip sharks.

We were fortunate enough to swim with the babies who were just venturing out of their birthing areas but still staying close to shore, an exercise that prepares them to venture further out away from the nursery. The young remain in the nurseries until their first fall, at which time they migrate to their wintering grounds.


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