“Look at that! Am I seeing what I am seeing? A white baby whale?!”
It was swimming right along its dark-grayish mother in the Golfo Nuevo, a protected bay along the Atlantic Ocean of the Argentinean coast.
“It’s an albino whale. Quite exceptional of course. It’s been around for a while,” my neighbor informed me.
I love Argentina for many reasons but above all for its incredible number and variety of wildlife, which is so easily visible throughout the country. Incredibly, many of Argentina’s most dramatic wildlife — guanacos (family of the llama), penguins, sea lions, elephant seals, dolphins, armadillos, and rheas (type of ostrich) — can be fund in one place, the National Reserve of Península Valdés.
However, I hadn’t come to Valdés for any of the above-mentioned animals but for another one: the Southern Right Whale. With any luck, I would be spotting an orca as well, but I knew it wasn’t high season for these marine mammals. It was, however, high season for the Southern Right Whales. Each year between June and December some 2,000 of these marine mammals swim to the relatively warm bays of Golfo Nuevo and San José of Península Valdés to breed and calve. Within this high season, the best chance to spot them is August-October.
In Your Bucket Because …
- Watching whales, what is there not to like about that spectacle?
- Chances are incredibly good you’ll see a multitude of whales as well as penguins, sea lions, guanacos and rheas. Spotting orcas or pumas requires a bit of luck though.
- Península Valdés is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Good for anybody who loves wildlife and nature.
Whale Watching Around High Tide
Península Valdés Natural Reserve has been a World Heritage Site since 1999. Overnight stays are prohibited in the park, except for one camping area at Punta Pardelas along Golfo Nuevo (note that this exception may be rescinded at any time). And that is where my partner Coen and I were staying, with some thirty other campers.
The days were spent lingering and going for walks. We could see the whales breaching in the distance. You can get close to them by taking a boat trip. However, for us there was no need for a boat trip. All we had to wait for was high tide.
It was a matter of waiting for the first shout, “There they are!” Everybody dropped whatever they were doing or reading, took their cameras and binoculars and ran to the shore. We sat or stood, and watched in awe. With the rising tide the water level was now deep enough for the endangered baleen whales to swim right along the shore, at almost touching distance. It felt like watching a slow motion movie. In perfect harmony the mothers and their young glided through the water, slowly coming to the surface, spouting water and going down again.
This twice-daily spectacle is a sight we couldn’t take for granted, and the spotting of the albino baby made the whole experience even more special. The visit to Península Valdés isn’t one I can cross off my list “have been there/ have done that”. It’s one that remains because the idea of going back, one day, is just as enticing as visiting it for the first time.
- To camp along Golfo Nuevo you need to be entirely self-supporting and it means roughing it. You will need your own transportation, camping equipment and have to bring all your food and water because there is nothing there. Going to the bathroom means digging a hole far away from where everybody is camping. The hardship is easily compensated by the awe of camping here and being so close to the whales all the time.
- To visit the park independently, rent a car in Puerto Madryn.
- Accommodations and restaurants for various budgets and levels of comfort are available in Puerto Madryn or Puerto Piramides (the first is the park’s main gateway, the latter is a small town next to the park).
- There are numerous guided tours to the park, as well as boat trips. Both can be arranged with travel agencies in the above-mentioned towns.
- Worth visiting is the information center right after the entrance to the park.
- Puerto Madryn has an airport and is connected to all major cities in Argentina such as Salta, Ushuaia and Buenos Aires.
Photos by Coen Wubbels.