Calendar of Fauna on Peninsula Valdes

Although few wildlife-viewing experiences are as grandiose as seeing whales breach or witnessing orcas charge the beaches in a hunt for sea lions, there are numerous special moments throughout the yearly cycles of all Atlantic Patagonian fauna. Regardless of what time you visit, you'll be witnessing something memorable.

Since practically everyone who visits Península Valdés is here for the wildlife, any guide we recommend will know where to go for the best views of the wildlife that's most active. Renting a car is a possibility, but going with a guide service makes things easier—your guide will be able to navigate the unpaved roads while you scan the land and water for creatures.

Here is a Península Valdés wildlife primer to get you acquainted with what you'll see when.

When to Go

Birds: June–Dec.

Whales: May–Dec.

Dolphins: Dec.–Mar.

Elephant Seals: year-round

Sea Lions: year-round

Orcas: Sept.–Apr.

Penguins: Sept.–Mar.

Scope It Out

Consider purchasing or renting binoculars or a scope.

Look to the Water For . . .

Southern Right Whales. The first southern right whales arrive in Golfo Nuevo between the end of April and the beginning of May, and can be observed from beaches in and along Puerto Madryn as well as the Península Valdés. Your best chance of seeing them will be from a whale-watching point at Puerto Pirámides. These whales are between 36 and 59 feet long, and have several endearing behaviors such as "sailing," where they hold their fins up in the air, and when a mother uses her flippers to teach calves how to swim.

Elephant Seals. Elephant seals are larger mammals than sea lions, and have a different way of moving—using their flippers to waddle along on land, whereas sea lions use both front and back flippers to thrust themselves forward. Adult males can reach up to 6 meters (20 feet) in length and weigh up to 4 tons, and after four years develop a proboscis, or elephant-like appendage on their noses, which inflates to help produce sounds. The biggest elephant-seal colonies are in Península Valdés, at Punta Cantor and Punta Delgada.

Sea Lions. In January and February sea lions begin to form "harems," with each dominant male taking up to a dozen females. The fights to maintain these harems can be violent, and it's possible to witness an invading male drag off one of the females from the harem with his teeth. Most of the year, however, sea-lion colonies appear peaceful: the animals sun themselves or swim, and the pups are curious and playful. They can be observed year-round all along the Atlantic Coast. Summertime (which in the Southern Hemisphere begins on December 21) up until April is when sea lions and elephant seals are reproducing and raising pups.

Orcas. It's possible to see the black fins of orcas cutting through the water along the coastline, occasionally storming the beach in violent and spectacular chases. The best place to see orcas is at the extreme northern tip of Península Valdés, Punta Norte, in April.

Look to the Air and Land for . . .

Seabirds. Among the many seabirds found in Patagonia—including dolphin gulls, kelp geese, southern giant petrels, rock and blue-eyed cormorants, snowy sheathbills, blackish oystercatchers, and steamer ducks—one species, the arctic tern, has the longest migration—it flies over 21,750 miles annually from the Arctic to Antarctica and back.

Penguins. Along Atlantic Patagonia—most notably Punta Tombo—there are large rookeries of Magellanic penguins, with up to 500,000 of these flightless birds. The males arrive from the sea each August. A month later the females arrive and the males begin fighting territorial battles. In October and into November the nesting pairs incubate the eggs. Once the chicks hatch in November, the parents make continual trips to the ocean for food. In January the chicks leave the nest, learning to swim in February. Their plumage matures throughout the fall, when the penguins begin migrating north to Brazil.

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