Monday, March 10, 2008

Península Valdés: A Unique Wildlife Sanctuary

Elephant Seal

Península Valdés is an oddly shaped peninsula on the Atlantic coast about 1000Km southwest of Buenos Aires. It offers two protected bays utilized by whales, sea lions, elephant seals, penguins and other marine life.

It is one of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in Argentina. Cueva de las Manos, and Los Glaciares National Park are examples of others.

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The peninsula itself is a barren flat landscape no different than the Patagonian Steppe found on the mainland. It is sparsely populated with the private lands divided by just a few large sheep farms.

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According UNESCO, the reason Península Valdés was named an UNESCO natural world heritage site was:
it is a site of global significance for the conservation of marine mammals. It is home to an important breeding population of the endangered southern right whale as well as important breeding populations of southern elephant seals and southern sea lions. The orcas in this area have developed a unique hunting strategy to adapt to local coastal conditions.


Right Whale Sunset by Tony Galvez

The photo above is by Tony Galvez on Flickr and it shows a Southern Right Whale in the protected bay to the south of the Peninsula. The Southern Right Whales use the bay to birth their pups and rest before the long journey home at the end of Feb. We just missed them.


We were also a little too early to witness the "unique hunting strategy of the orca whales". In March and April, they will swim up onto the beach in the northern bay where hundreds of sea lions have just given birth to their pups.


The orcas use the unusually deep shoreline to spring up on the beach and surprise the pups for an easy lunch. It is pretty gruesome to watch. I'm almost glad we missed it. Here is a link if you really must see it for yourself


The, biggest colony of Magellanic Penguins is in Punta Tombo further down the Atlantic coast. However, there are some large colonies on the peninsula too. We were surprised at how close to the road these guys were.


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If you visit, you will want to fly to Trelew (pronounced tree-lough) and rent a car. You can stay in Puerto Madryn, the closest city to the peninsula or you can stay in Puerto Pirámides, a small beach town on the peninsula where you can easily catch a whale watching tour in the bay.


We recommend you stay at one of the estancias on the peninsula. We stayed at Estancia Rincon Chico which allowed us onto their private, protected beach where we could walk right up to a large colony of elephant seals. I'll have a full review of the estancia in a later post.


Here are a few more photos of the elephant seals at Rincon Chico's beach.



Elephant Seals at Rincon Chico

Elephant Seal

6 comments:

Esben said...

Love the picture of the two birds. Very cute.

Anonymous said...

Man! Yall are doing it right! It is all so incredible and 'other worldly' in Patagonia, isn't it? Are your children able to accompany yall on this trip? I hope so. talk about education! Have a great time. Where are you off to next? Vicky

Longhorn Dave said...

Esben:

They are magellanic penguins and they posed for us for quite a while.

Vicky:

Yes the kids have been traveling with us. We are taking a break from traveling now. It was a long trip.

Quickroute said...

Great photos! - have you been to the north yet - good photo ops for a man with your keen eye

Longhorn Dave said...

Thanks quickroute! Everyone we run into has asked us if we have been to Salta yet. I want to go. There is a photo workshop at the end of the month. I just might go by myself.

David

Quickroute said...

Salta is a picturesque city but the nearby countryside, Salinas Grandes to the west, Cafayate to the south and Pumamarca to the north are spectacular. My camera phone didn't do them justice for the blog pics I posted but you'd be in snap heaven I reckon