23rd October: We took a day trip to go whale watching on the Reserva Faunistica Peninsular Valdes. And boy did we see whales! They came so close to the boat it was incredible. At one point we were watching three of them swimming around very close by and blowing water up out of their water spouts on their heads. Patience also paid off when a couple of the whales flicked their tales giving us an incredible sight of a huge tail only feet away from us standing on the boat. It’s hard to express the feeling of seeing this so close but if you ever get the chance to go whale watching it is really worth it when you see that huge tail flick up in front of you. These creatures are HUGE and beautiful to watch. We were on the boat almost 2 hours which was very lucky as the boats hadn’t been running for the previous 2 days due to high winds. We must have seen at least 20 whales in this time including one parent whale jumping clear out of the water with her calf. It was mesmerising.
Paul and Natalie above with Dave who we met the day before on the Penguin colony trip.
The bus picked us up from our hostel in Puerto Madryn at 8am; scrambling for the shared bathroom at 7am we decided we are definitely feeling too old for staying in hostels! After a quick breakfast of more sugared croissants, more ham and more cheese…it seems to be the staple diet here after steak and it’s getting really monotonous now, we travelled 90 minutes to Puerto Piramide where you catch the boat out in to the Golfo Nuevo to see Southern Right Whales.
The day trip on the bus was 150 pesos each but you pay an additional 100 pesos to go on the boats and another 45 pesos as an entrance fee to the peninsular reserve. Península Valdés in Patagonia hosts the largest breeding population of the species with more than 2,000 whales catalogued. Golfo Nuevo and Golfo San José are both protected bodies of water located between the peninsula and the Patagonian mainland and these baleen whales come here between May and December for mating and giving birth; because the water in the gulf is quieter and warmer than in the open sea. Although we didn’t see them, Orcas can also be found off the coast in the open sea off the peninsula often beaching themselves on shore to capture sea lions and elephant seals. You know when you watch those TV nature documentaries with the Orca scoffing down the sea lion? That will have been filmed here. Discovery Channel frequently film here and National Geographic photographers and researchers were all over the peninsular when we visited. In fact they now claim that this is the only place in the world that Orcas feed like this since initial reports of it also being seen in Canada some years ago have since seen researchers record that the Orcas now don’t beach themselves to fee there any more……Orcas actually learned how to do it on this Patagonian peninsular.
Right whales can grow up to 59 ft long and weigh up to 100 tons and are easily distinguished from other whales by the callosities on their heads (roughened patches of skin), a broad back without a dorsal fin, and a long arching mouth that begins above the eye. The body of the whale is very dark grey or black, occasionally with some white patches on the belly. The right whale’s callosities appear white, not due to skin pigmentation, but to large colonies of cyamids or whale lice.
We were told by our tour guide that they are called ‘right whales’ because early whalers considered them the “right” whale to hunt. In the early centuries of shore-based whaling prior to 1712, right whales were virtually the only large whales the whalers were able to catch for three reasons: the right whales were often found very close to shore where they could be spotted by lookouts on the beach and hunted from beach-based whaleboats, the right whales were relatively slow swimmers so the whalers could catch up to them in their whaleboats in contrast to the other whale species which tended to swim too fast and thirdly, compared to other species of whale, right whales killed by harpoons were more likely float and thus could be retrieved by the whalers and towed back to shore for flensing.
Populations were vastly reduced by intensive harvesting during the active years of the whaling industry but thankfully they are now protected and are more well known for being watched due to their acrobatics in the water and because they are quite sociable and inquisitive and will come close to the boats.
The inner part of the peninsula is inhabited by rheas which look like emus and we did see several but at too far a distance to photograph…they also have a few in the bunny park in West Ealing! There are herds of guanacos (look like llamas – member of the camel family)….
…and lots of maras; these are larger relatives of guinea pigs and are common in the Patagonian steppes but also live in other areas of South America as well such as Paraguay. Maras are the fourth largest rodent in the world, after capybaras, Porcupines, and beavers, reaching about 18 inches in height. They are also known as the pampas hare. We saw a family of maras sitting near their burrows with their young.
Look lively – there’s a lizard looking up…no idea what type of lizard this is but he let me get very close before he ran.
Me and my shadow…in Patagonia.
Further along the peninsular at Punta Norte we saw the Elephant seals huge weird looking seals that bark a lot; the sound is pretty loud and they are quite agressive, some of the males were fighting on the beach.
A particularly lazy Elephant seal basks in the sun….they were hunted to the brink of extinction by the end of the nineteenth century, but numbers have since recovered. Some facts from Wikipedia: Peninsula Valdés has the fourth largest elephant seal colony in the world. Elephant seals take their name from the large proboscis of the adult males which resembles an elephant’s trunk. The bull’s proboscis is used in producing extraordinarily loud roaring noises, especially during the mating season .More importantly, however, the nose acts as a sort of rebreather, filled with cavities designed to reabsorb moisture from the animals’ exhalations. This is important during the mating season when the male seals rarely leave the beach to feed, and therefore must conserve body moisture, as they have no incoming source of water. Elephant seals reach a length of 16 feet and a weight of 6,000 pounds and are much larger than the female cows, which typically measure about 10 feet and 2,000 pounds. The largest known bull elephant seal weighed 11,000 pounds and measured 22.5 feet in length. Glad we didn’t bump into him!
Dave keeps a safe distance from the elephant seals.