Continuing our travels in Argentina: March 2023. We are on the Argentinan Atlantic Coast again. This time we are traveling North towards Buenos Aires from Camarones. Our family has been on the road in our campers since receiving them out of port December, 23, 2022. In January, we traveled South from Buenos Aires central to Necochea and then cut across the center of Argentina to the fantastic lakes of Siete Lagos, then South to Rio Gallegos.
Now, we are returning chased by wind and cold out of Southern Patagonia; we did not venture to Ushuaia because of bad weather. Here near Punta Norte, the Northern most point of the National Parque Valdez, we are enjoying light winds, some rain, some sun, highs in the 20’s Celsius. We came during March specifically to see Orcas. The Orcas that feed on Sea Lion young in nurseries on the beaches in the National Parque Valdez.
Through a sweet introduction from a Argentinan fellow traveller, named Miquel, to a local tour guide, named Cesar, we got very good direction regarding how to time our visit to the park. We were invited to Cesar’s house in Puerto Madryn to have tea and plan our days near the park and maximize our luck in seeing some Orcas. He gave us a 25% chance for success because the Orcas have a 600 kilometer range.
Well, the next day, we got a gruesome show. We decided to go straight to Punta Norte hours before high tide as is recommended. High tide was just after 1700 on 3/16/2023. Along with about 100 other tourists from around the globe, we waited. Just as a storm was starting to threaten our resolve, a black dorsal fin came in and out of view to the South of the Mirador (lookout) area.
Cesar had shown us a film of Orca’s attacking a Right Whale through exhausting it and then biting and holding. During our tea, he had said that the Right Whales wouldn’t be around because it’s not their season. Not until May. We were slow to believe what we were seeing at Punta Norte because there are not “supposed” to be Right whales here in March at Peninsula Valdez.
An Orca chasing one or two or more Right Whales (ballena francia australs) a mother and calf along the coast toward open sea, perhaps to the rest of his pod. The Right Whales located by sight of their breaches and blow spouts were swimming close to one another. The Orca’s dorsal fin crested for each of their breathes just behind and alongside when they were being herded towards the point.
At times they broke direction but it seemed that the Orca then organized them towards the point again. At first, it seemed that there was just one Right Whale and then as the show seemed more directed towards the point and open sea, there seemed to be blow holes going double time with one black dorsal fin in chase.
Another tourist observer told me she had seen a pod of Orcas, 6 strong, patrolling the coast at Punta Norte the day before. She didn’t see them feed on Sea Lions. The German woman and I imagined that the Orca was driving the Right Whales to his pod waiting at the point but this is pure speculation. We also wondered if the pod had seen the whales the day before and planned this drive out of Golfo Nueva toward the Punta Norte. Also, just pure speculation. We were both wanting to know more about what we had seen. It sure wasn’t the “stranding” hunting method Orcas use to kill baby Sea Lions. Somehow, what we saw was more disturbing.
Here is an ID guide to the known Orcas of Peninsula Valdez as of 2022. We were too far away to ID our Orca sighting but I suspect it was one of the bigger ones. Cesar says their dorsal fins are two meters tall. Terrifying. Also, I found a research article regarding the Orca’s interaction data from 1975 to about 2000. I’ve attached a link to download the information. Now my Google feed is exploding with Orca articles killing large whales but still, the greatest killer of balleen whales are high speed cargo ships.
We camped in a windbreak of dunes along the Doradilla Nature Preserve area of the Argentinan Atlantic Coast. On the beach, we found live and dead juvenile penguins, dead and live sea lions, and two dead whales an adult and calf. One around 45 feet long, one about 12 feet. Both had a rusted baile weight wire twisted through to form a loop through a puncture on the right side of their tail, like an earing. Cesar has told us the metal loop was likely used by biologists who would have taken necropsy samples as all whale deaths are studied here.
We met two Americans who have been traveling for 4 years. They shared their inspirational lifestyle with us but because weather and the Guardaparques both were not friendly to kite boarding on the gulf they moved on. I hope to meet up with them further North. I enjoyed walking the beach with them comparing stories and theories about what we have been learning by traveling the coast of Argentina.
Kristen had been told, for instance, that the penguins can recover from traumatic injuries if conditions for rest are available. This made us hopeful for a juvenile Magellanic Penguin who seemed to be convalescing on the beach with what seemed to be linear scarring across its abdomen. Now, 3 days into our stay on this beach, Mike and I walked down to check on him. He is still there but looks a little more perky, and is molting around the linear marks as well as his whole body. This let us see that there isn’t fishing line wrapped around him which has been occupying my thoughts at night. It’s the only thing we could possibly do anything about.
Here are photos from a scientific article showing the molting process of a juvenile Magellanic penguin. Ours is in the gray sullen looking phase, middle photo.
Now my Google feed is exploding with Orca articles killing large whales but still, the greatest killer of balleen whales are ships. Visit this website for ways you can direct your shipping and cruising dollars to companies that observe voluntary speed reductions in areas of whale sighting (only west coast of US at this time).
Well, if you made it to the end of this post, you have a good attention span. I sure love putting these experiences and thoughts down. As always, I send out my love to family and friends who we are missing. And I encourage you to do less buying and more experiencing!