This is an old dream of mine (Jenny) so I dragged Steven onto a 20h bus ride from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn. We all have seen the documentaries in which orcas strand onto the sand beach to catch a seal pup. At least, I remember this very well, and since I was a child this is the kind of animal encounter and behaviour I absolutely want to witness. There are not many places in the world where humans can watch this hunting technique and the Peninsula Valdes is one of the most accessible.
The only issue is that we may be a bit too early in the season and there are low chances for us to see any orcas, and even less chances to see them stranding. It is a matter of being at the right place at the right time… And there are many variables that will influence the orca’s intentional stranding :
- Even if orcas are seen multiple times during the year, they more regularly visit the area between February and April, which makes it the best time of the year to witness an attack as these 3 months coincide with the seal pup season.
- Orcas only attack 3 hours before and after high tides to avoid the shallow rocky reef and the risk to injure themselves.
- The currents must not be too strong and the quieter the sea is the better it is. Meaning no wind and no waves.
So here we are. End of February. No wind, no strong currents… It’s a gorgeous day to see orcas !! When we arrive at the information centre at the entrance of the peninsula (national park), the ranger informs us the high tides will be at 11am… We are late, we didn’t know the tides in Punta Norte were different than those in Puerto Madryn.
If they had not told us we would have missed the chance to see the orcas. We therefore “rushed”, driving 30/40km per hour ! It’s 9:30 am, we calculate it should take us about 2 hours to drive the 90 km of gravel road to Punta Norte. For two hours, I am just hoping. Almost praying that my legendary chance will be with us today. I am concentrated on the road but can only think of what I am about to witness… please, please, please, be there. I hope they have not already successfully stranded this morning and that they are still hungry when we arrive. I know we are early in the season, but we had no other choice… so we never know, they could be early this year and be here today !
I could go on and on about all my thoughts and keep the suspense up… But I am not going to keep the mystery and the tension until the end of this article… So… No, we haven’t seen any orcas that day nor any other day. 1 day to early unfortunately. 8 Orcas were spotted the next day at 2 pm at Caleta Valdes where we had lunch at the same time the day before. All the conditions were favourable to see them but Orcas (like any other wild animal) are unpredictable and the chances you have of seeing them rise with the longer your stay on the peninsula (or the money spent… there is a €7,000 tour for photographers… Not really our budget).
Despite not seeing the orcas, our day was absolutely perfect and brought us to different areas with gorgeous landscapes. The Peninsula Valdes is the type of place I had never seen before. Large sand pampa with knee-high bushes, long brown sand beaches, turquoise water and a very abundant wildlife : Seals, Elephant seals, Armadillos, Guanacos, Nandus, seagulls, horses, vulturs, Magallanes penguins and those annoying little birds which always cross the road when a car drives by. Adrenalin lovers or suicidal they are quite dangerous if the driver is not careful and brakes strongly or try to avoid them.
From June to December it is also a very famous place to see the Southern right whale that migrates from the Antarctic ocean to the peninsula to give birth and mate. At this period many kayak or boat tours offer whale watching option.
At the end of our tour of the peninsula, we drove back to Puerto Madryn via Puerto Pyramides, the only town on the peninsula. We only did a small halt for terrible coffee and watch some guy surfing until we had enough of the wind and cold! (Stevens notes: places selling terrible coffee shouldn’t be allowed call themselves coffee shops)
Fun facts :
Because I am passionate, I want to share a couple of things about orcas !
- Orcas communally called Killer whales are a species of the Delphine family. They are not a type of whales. They are called this way because they hunt whale calves.
- Orcas can be found all around the world and across all the seas and oceans. It’s an animal that lives under a matriarchal organisation. Meaning they stay with their families all of their life. The orca pod is led by the oldest female.
- There are different types of orcas across the seas, each with different behaviors and hunting techniques adapted to the region in which they hunt. In western Canada, for example, there are 2 types, those that migrate (the transient Orca) and those which stay all year long in the same area (Vancouver Island) called the resident Orcas. In Antarctica, there exists 3 types : A, B and C. They are differentiated by the intensity of the yellow of their skins right next to their fin.
To learn more about Orcas at the peninsula Valdes :
Checking the tides at the peninsula Valdes :
- www.hidro.gov.ar (look for Puerto Madryn and add 3h and 20 min to know the tides at Punta Norte)
If you planning on visiting the peninsula :