EDUCATIONAL FIELD TRIP
FALL - 2006
THE VALDES PENINSULA
Our week-long field trip began on Wednesday the 13th, and as you can see, the crew was very excited to head out. We flew from Buenos Aires to the Trelew Airport and traveled by bus to the town of Puerto Madryn in the province of Chubut.
The Territorio hotel at sunrise. http://www.hotelterritorio.com.ar/
We boarded our buses and headed for the Peninsula village of Puerto Piramides for whale watching on the Golfo Nuevo and then on to Caleta Valdes to see elephant seals. The Valdes Peninsula is a geological extension of the semi-arid Patagonia steppe, and is a World Heritage Reserve with controlled access. There are only a few hundred residents on the peninsula, in a couple of small villages and on several large estancias. I have many pictures, none of which can do justice to the amazing things that we saw and experienced. There will be some spectacular pictures posted on the Pepperdine Buenos Aires website, and I will give the link to that when it is ready. I chose this particular picture because a Southern Wright/Right whale and her young one surfaced right next to our boat. We saw many breaches and wonderful flukes, as literally dozens of whales were within a 1000 yard radius of the boat.
It is the mating and birthing season for most wildlife in this region, and the elephant seals were just beginning to have their pups. Below is the coastline where the orcas come onshore to hunt the seals, and a large male, smaller female and black pup are shown. We had a presentation by the naturalist who has lived among the orcas on the Peninsula, and learned that there are only a handful of orcas that hunt in this fashion, that this behavior is taught to the young members of the clan, and that only a few of the orcas in the clan are the teachers.
At Punta Tombo we had the amazing opportunity to walk among the penguins! These adults are rather small, about 2 feet, and are obviously used to us human-folks. However, if one should happen to get a bit too close, they will quickly let you know that you have crossed the line and are fair game for a powerful peck. I was fortunate to get a short video of one walking in front of us - they have the right of way - and as you can imagine, it is a riot. During the peak of the mating season, which is soon, the population of this penguin colony will be close to 500,000.
Because the steppe is semi arid, there is not a great diversity of animals or plants. There are many guanacos, armadillos, rheas, maras and several rodent species, and a handfull of bird and reptile species. There are about 280 species of plants. However, the gulfs surrounding the Peninsula and the Peninsula shoreline make Valdes a very hospitable habitat for the creatures shown above.