Text: Pablo Etchevers
Watching a southern right whale from a boat is a unique experience everyone should have at least once in their lives. Their jumps and splashes, their tails and movements teach us habits and customs everyday.
It is recommended that visitors to Puerto Pirámides should wear warm clothes and, if possible, a windbreaker. At this spot, the first whale watching tours begin early in May everyday at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm, approximately.
Leaving from Puerto Madryn, we took Provincial Route 2 heading for the Carlos Ameghino Isthmus, the only link between the peninsula and the continent. From this strategic geographic location, the two gulfs that keep watch on this feature are seen: Golfo
San José -to the North- and Golfo
Nuevo -to the South. We went towards the latter.
After accessing the Wildlife Reserve, the feeling of being very close to the Valdés Peninsula overcame all of us.
The wind and the smell of the sea confirmed that in a matter of minutes we would be in Puerto Pirámides, only urban location on the entire peninsula from where the expeditions to enjoy the famous Patagonian whale watching tour leave. From Puerto Madryn, we traveled almost 100 kilometers.
Thousands of visitors from all over the world come along between May and November to watch one of the most majestic shows in Nature: that performed by the southern right whale.
They bring their cameras and camcorders. They are eager to approach the giant cetaceans and get ""the photograph" of the jump or the huge tails up in the air.
Wearing waterproof clothes and life jackets, before the motorboat got into the water, each one of us began to mingle with the scenery. Very slowly, the craft left towards the deep salty sea waters.
We set sail on the comfortable boat and did not take long to spot the first whale, which came to us with audacity and curiosity.
To our amazement, a colossal dark mass emerged abruptly to the surface of the water to fall down again in an unbelievable roar showing us its grandeur.
As we watched the show, the guide told us some of the most important features of these large cetaceans. The way in which they move their body, their tales, how they swim, what is really the spray they blow through the hole on their heads, everything.
"The southern right whale has a curve body and it has no dorsal fin. Adult females measure between 13 and 16 meters, whereas males reach only 12. Adults may come to weigh between 30 and 40 tons", the guide explained.
Inside the mouth, which has a curved shape, there are 260 plates or baleens joined at the upper jaw. It is from the word "baleen" that the Spanish word for whale -ballena
We continued sailing. Suddenly, another whale showed its giant tail over the water. It was about five meters high. The animal remained in that position for several minutes, abandoning itself to the whims of the wind.
We were lucky to see a mother and its calf. Gestation lasts twelve months and the female breast-feeds the new-born during another twelve. The calf is five and a half meters long at the moment of its birth.
When these animals are ready to reproduce, every three years, they return to the Valdés Peninsula area in search for safe and quiet waters to bear another calf.
On top of their head, they have callosities that represent an "identification mark", just like our fingerprints, in a way. And those who know them or see them regularly can make them out from one another due to this feature.
SWe learned that the blowholes lie behind the callosities. These animals breathe through these holes and release the air from their lungs violently. This has been popularly known as spray emerging from their backs, but in fact it is air what is exhaled through these holes, a sort of nostrils.
This kind of tours is very singular as the boats may not approach the whales with their engines on. They must reach a certain point and then wait for the cetaceans to come near them.
In order to avoid any alteration during the breeding and reproduction period, navigation is only allowed in Golfo Nuevo
and only tourist companies' boats are authorized by Prefectura Naval Argentina
. The tours are strictly regulated in order to protect the integrity of the right whales, declared Natural Monument in 1984.
We could tell a thousand anecdotes and curiosities about whales but the essential thing is that visitors should have their own experience. As we said at the beginning of this text: watching the southern right whale from a boat is a unique experience that must be enjoyed at least once in a lifetime.