Penguins and W(h)ales

Trip Start Jul 02, 2009
Trip End Jun 28, 2010

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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Friday, September 25, 2009

The bus from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn took about 20 hours, passing though some excellent tank country on the way.  The town was founded by Welsh immigrants and is a good base for visiting the nearby Valdes Peninsula and penguin colony at Punta Tombo.  After finding accommodation I took leisurely to the Ecocentro which is a bit out of town to the south.  There's not a huge amount to see at the Ecocentro although everything is very tasteful and the reading room is well stocked.  There were flamingos on the beach when I walked back which was really cool.

I signed up for a day trip Valdes Peninsula which was supposed to include whale watching.  However, whale watching had to be postponed because the wind was blowing (vigorously) from the south.  


After lunch we visited an elephant seal colony which is organised on the alpha male and harem model.  The alpha male at this colony was particularly active during our visit.  He chased a couple of intruders who slipped out of the sea at the edges of the colony and mated with two females (I hope that they were females and not juvenile males).  Our guide Marcia was most impressed with his prowess ("Twice in twenty minutes!").  

Here are pics of Puerto Pirámides (from where the whale watching boats leave) on the way back and the beach at Puerto Madryn late in the afternoon. 

There had been a few penguins on the Valdes Peninsula but if you really want to see penguins you need to visit the colony at Punta Tomba. Although the sun was shining it was windy and felt cold. 


These are Magellanic penguins, also known as Jackass Penguins, and when there are lot of them around you soon learn why.  I'd only seen penguins in zoos before this trip so it was really strange seeing then nesting in very terrestrial locations through which guanacos wandered. The penguins are used to humans and one of the rules for visiting the colony is that the latter must yield right of way to the former.


The Punta Tombo tours typically stop in Trelew at a Welsh tea house and the fossil museum which is actually pretty good (my preference would have been more fossils and less tea).


The postponed whale watch went ahead a couple of days later once the wind had weakened and changed directions.  The Southern Right Whales breed in these waters and the Japanese and Norwegians that they encounter here are armed only with cameras.  Boats leave from Puerto Pirámides on the Valdes Peninsula and arer launched off the beach using trailers.  The boat was a bit crowded although I was able to follow some of the commentary (in Spanish by an American scientist).  The callosities on the head of a whale can be used to identify it and apparently software is being developed to automatically 'fingerprint' the whales. 


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