Close encounters with whales.

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Dec 16, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Monday, October 20, 2008

Peninsula Valdez is basically a massive sand bar that extends into the Atlantic ocean with two huge bays that are kind of like beach resorts for Southern Right Whales.  

Southern Right Whales are about 40-50 feet in length and come to Peninsula Valdez from Antarctica to mate, calf, and raise their young in the calm, "warm", protected waters.  They're called "right whales" since they are so curious they come up to boats and were the "right" whales to hunt.

There are an estimated 2,000 whales in the bay and you can see them from the pier - I watched at least 6 whales breaching within 500 feet from where I stood.  If you zoom all the way in on the map above, you can see the pier (it is the shorter of the two).  In fact, there are three white dots to the south of the pier that could be whales - I`m not sure, but that`s about how close they were.

The next day, we took a boat out to see the mothers nursing their calves - and were right next to the boat!  At one point, one of the "babies" stuck his head out of the water to get a better look at us - if you can call something the size of a school bus a "baby".

When they nurse, the mother stands on her head with her tail out of the water and the baby floats on the surface to suckle.  

One of the main reasons the whales raise their young here is that, for some reason, orcas won`t venture into the bay - and baby whale tongue is an orca delicacy

The orcas will work in a group to separate a baby whale from it`s mother and force the baby to the bottom of the ocean where they hold it down until the whale drowns.  The orcas will take turns surfacing to catch a breath while the others pin the baby to the bottom.
Finally, one orca will rip out the tongue and share it with the rest of the pod - but discard the rest of the carcass

There are even historical accounts of orcas helping whaling ships catch whales by shepherding the whales to the ship and slapping their tails to alert the whalers.   In return for their help, the whalers gave the orcas the tongue.  Look it up on Wikipedia under "Orca" - its a fascinating story.

But no one could explain why orcas don't come into the bay.  

However... the elephant seals hang out on the Atlantic side of the peninsula where the orcas do hang out...  and baby seals are like Oreo cookies to orcas.  Today, a German couple staying at my guest house saw an orca come right up on the beach, snatch a seal and head back out to sea - so Im going to that beach!

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