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  THE COAST SOUTH - Whales, penguins and other birds


The Patagonian Atlantic is the place where whales, penguins, sea elephants and seals have found a  safe home. This is the Argentina of the Atlantic Ocean, where one of the greatest collection of marine fauna in the world is to be found.  Along the length of the Atlantic coast, but especially in the Valdes peninsula, there is one of the most important marine mammal reserves in the world.   Each year, between May and November (September and October are ideal months)  hundreds of whales come to the calm waters of the peninsula to fulfill their life cycle. It is an unforgettable feast of leaping and blowing, whilst on the shore thousands of penguins, along with the colonies of sea lions and elephant seals are privileged spectators to this veritable explosion of marine wildlife.                                                                         

Whales : The star of the gulf is the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) a cetacean  belonging to the Mysticeti or ballen whale suborder.  The mysticeti have baleen instead of teeth. Oldest whales found on earth are 55 million years old. Most of the whales show ventral grooves and a dorsal fin, but the southern right whale lacks both. The top jaw is long and thin, measuring a quarter of its total body. Some parts of the head are covered by callosites and a large number of crustaceans (parasites). On the top of their head they possess two external blowholes. One of the most outstanding characteristics of the southern right whale is the way in which they exhale, two columns of air and water particles emerge forming a V which can be observed from some kms away. 

The Southern Right Whale is considered a Natural Monument and protected by Argentine Law Nbr 23094: The population distributed in the seas of the southern hemisphere, in mild and antartic waters does not amount to more than 4000 individuals.   Every year about 500 individuals reach the Nuevo and San Jose gulfs (March through December)  though the population of the Peninsula Valdes area is calculated in 1200 animals.  The whale bears a calf every 3 years, being sexually mature when they are between 7 and 17 years old. Females reach a length of 13 meters, males are shorter. Calves are about 4.5 and 5.5 long and approximately 3 tons when they are just born. They grow at a rate of 3.5 cm a day and will reach a length of 12  / 16 meters and weigh  50 / 55 tons.    More than 70.000 people from all over the world come for whale watching every year from May to December.  Best time  is October / November,  the time of maximum concentration of whales  in the area.  

Penguins:  Punta Tombo is located 181 km from Puerto Madryn.  The Punta Tombo reserve  was created in 1979 by the Province of Chubut in order to protect the Magallanes Penguins and is  one of the world´s greatest wild fauna spectacles. It is the  biggest continental colony of the Magellan penguin (Speniscus magellanicus) in the  world (only Antartica has more) with more than 500.000 birds form September to mid April (some say a million, others 1.5 million!).  But only a small corner of the protected colony is open to visitors, where you are allowed to walk on restricted trails and watch the knee-high penguins as they squawk, bawl and brave their way to the sea to eat and get food for their young. Penguins build their nests under the bushes, in caves and in open places. Most of the caves are near the coast, where the soil is softer for digging. They usually return to the same nest. The male is sometimes bigger and has a thicker and longer beak than the female. Both of them defend their nest, incubate the eggs and feed the nestling with fish and squid. Penguins spend most of their lives in the sea.  In winter they usually reach Rio de Janeiro in a 3000 km journey.  They are able to swim at a speed of 8 kms an hour. 

Punta Tombo is  a narrow and rocky fringe that penetrates around 3,5 kms into the sea and has extense and soft sloped beaches, a characteristic that penguins take advantage of to make their nests, arriving to firm ground by the beach, (best time to watch is early in the morning and late afternoon when temperature is lower  and the beach is full of penguins bathing and fixing their plumage and constantly coming and going from and to their nests).   

Birds: A few kilometers from the isthmus is the access to the Isla de los Pajaros Natural Reserve, one of the three first fauna reserves of the continent.  It was crated in 1967 to protect one of the few ecosystems that allows the grouping and reproduction of a wide variety of marine birds. The high tides in the San Jose Gulf connect the island to the continent twice a day but access of the public is not allowed to avoid  emigration of birds. The species may be watched from the isthmus. But it is not strange that you will be able to watch birds at Punta Tombo where some 400.000 to 500.00 birds can come together.  An awesome sight.

About 5 kms down the coast from Camarones ( 250 km down south of Trelew) and although considerably off the main tourist track there is an important rookery of Magellanic penguins (and also a colony of sea lions)





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