Alas, No Orcas

The difference between Patagonia and Buenos Aires is almost too much. We’re less than 2000km from the capital but we might as well be on another continent. There are few paved roads, even fewer towns, the color scheme is brown/grey with lots of blue for the giant sky that opens up above and there are way more animals around than people.

Today we drove around Isla Valdes, a peninsula famous for its wildlife, off the coast of Puerto Madryn. Depending on the season you can see sealions, sea elephants, penguins and orcas. If you’re really lucky you can even see an orca eat a sea lion but that didn’t happen today unfortunately. (They only kill about 8% of the sea lion population a year, in the grand scheme of the ecosystem, that’s not very much.) But what is very impressive is that the orcas have come up with a special hunting technique here at Isla Valdes. They intentionally let themselves wash up on the beach, grab a sea lion pup and then wiggle their way back into the water with the waves. Basically, they beach themselves on purpose and then hope to make it back into the sea in time before their bodies give out under their own pressure. That’s a lot of dedication just for a meal!

Apparently this happens on average once every three days during the season, which is on right now, but the orcas weren’t hungry today apparently so instead we got to see the sea lion pups happily frolicking in the waves. Notice the two big daddies, one on the very right of the frame and one in the middle of his harem. Those two seem to be rivals because they kept growling at each other and mock charging later on.

Let’s go in for a close-up here of the pups so you can really see them klutzing around in the waves:

(Sorry for the cloudy quality, it’s taken through binoculars.)

There were several different groups of sea lions on the beach, all separated by a bit of space and usually gathered around one or two huge males with big manes basking in the sun. Apart from the whole ‘orca might come for lunch and have your baby’ thing, this really seems quite a peaceful and pleasant life.

We also saw penguins and some very far away sea elephants (which might also have been sea lions or really just fat blobs on the sand, hard to tell from that distance…)

In between animals there was lots of nothing, followed by more nothing and long stretches of road. We covered almost 200km today, once around the peninsula, but we probably saw fewer than 20 cars. And most of those were the same people over and over again because obviously the tourists are all on the same route. At one particular long stretch of road we stopped for a while and took some silly pictures. Not a single car passed us the entire time we were there. Which is why we could do this without even having to check whether there was someone coming down the road:

Today we’re driving back down to Trelew to visit the paleontological museum and to have tea in Gaiman (remember the whole Welsh heritage thing we mentioned in the last post?). We’ll spend one night in Trelew and then fly down to El Calafate, to do some hiking and possibly some serious freezing. Will let you know how that goes.

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