The Peninsula Valdes is a small, remote corner of Argentina, a desolate and windswept coastline of Patagonia where the waves of the Atlantic Ocean break against the coastal cliffs. Yet, despite its isolation, Valdes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most significant wildlife reserves in South America. The region is home to a plethora of wildlife including the famous Peninsula Valdes orcas.
For most people, orcas are the fearsome predators of the ocean. They are known for their intelligence and their ability to work together to hunt prey, and they have been the subject of countless documentaries and films. But for those who have been lucky enough to see them up close, orcas are also creatures of great beauty and mystery.
You can choose from a range of Patagonia tours and excursions to get up-colse-and-personal with Patagonian wildlife, and the peninsula’s geographic characteristics provide an amazing opportunity to watch the orcas and other species in their natural environments.
In this article, we’ll examine the Peninsula Valdes in more detail, including when and where to spot the orcas and some of the other amazing wildlife that inhabits the region.
We’ll also discuss the optimum seasons to visit Peninsula Valdes and the various options for exploring this amazing natural marvel.
Where to see orcas in Patagonia?
There are a few different places where you might be able to see orcas in Patagonia, depending on the time of year and your specific interests. Some popular spots include the Valdes Peninsula, which is known for its orca populations and offers boat tours and other excursions for wildlife viewing.
You might also consider visiting Tierra del Fuego National Park, which is home to a wide variety of marine wildlife including orcas, as well as stunning landscapes that are sure to take your breath away.
If you are looking to see orcas on the Valdes Peninsula, there are a few different options available to you. One of the most popular ways to see these magnificent creatures is by taking a boat tour from Puerto Piramides, a small town on the coast of the peninsula. These tours typically last a few hours and offer the chance to see orcas up close as they hunt and play in the waters surrounding the peninsula.
Another option is to visit Punta Norte, a beach on the northern coast of the peninsula that is known for its orca sightings during certain times of the year.
Best time to see Peninsula Valdes orcas
In Patagonia, more specifically in Peninsula Valdés, orcas may be spotted at any time of year, however, October-November & March-April is the ideal time to watch them.
Orcas come to the peninsula to feed and socialise during this season because this is when sea lion and elephant seal pups are born.
The whales are frequently spotted close to the coast, giving you an incredible experience and the chance to get up close to these majestic animals.
Additionally, you can see penguins (between September and March), seals, and sea lions throughout the spring and summer, so maybe that would be the ideal choice for your trip.
What is intentional stranding?
Intentional stranding by orcas is one of nature’s greatest spectacles. Peninsula Valdes is one of only two areas in the world where some orcas intentionally strand themselves on the beach in order to catch seal or sea lion pups.
Intentional stranding is a very unique behaviour practised by just a few resident whales, known as ‘stranders’ along the 3-kilometre stretch of coastline in Punta Norte Wildlife Reserve. This behaviour is taught by adult whales to the young members of the pod. In other words, these whales developed a unique culture of snatching seal pups from the beach by intentionally stranding themselves.
The orcas have a small window of time to successfully carry out their attacks – 2 hours before and 2 hours after high tide. At this time the water is high enough to reach the seal resting area.
This behavior involves the orcas swimming rapidly towards the shore and using the momentum of the wave to push themselves up onto the beach, where they quickly grab the seal pup. Then they wait for the next wave and use the power of their bodies to ‘wriggle’ back into the sea. It is a risky hunting technique and it is VERY DIFFICULT TO OBSERVE. And the specific area where most of the attacks occur is not accessible to tourists.
The orcas show a high degree of specialization in their hunting behaviour. Different groups of orcas specialize in hunting different prey. Some groups hunt sea lions, while others focus on elephant seals. They even show a preference for hunting at certain times of the year, depending on the availability of their preferred prey.
Where to watch Peninsula Valdes orcas from land
There are a few places where you can watch orcas from the land in Peninsula Valdes. Here are some of the best spots:
- Caleta Valdes: This is a natural inlet where you can see orcas hunting sea lions from the cliffs above. The best time to see them is between January and April.
- Punta Norte: This is the most popular spot for watching orcas in Peninsula Valdes. It’s a beach where you can see orcas hunting sea lions and elephant seals. The best time to see them is between February and April.
- Punta Delgada: This is a small village on the east coast of Peninsula Valdes where you can see orcas from the shore. The best time to see them is between January and April.
It’s important to note that the timing and location of orca sightings can vary due to weather and other factors. It’s best to check with local guides or tour operators to determine the best time and place to see them.
Where to see Peninsula Valdes orcas from a boat
If you want to watch orcas from a boat on Peninsula Valdes, there are a few tour operators that offer whale-watching tours. Here are some of the best places to go:
- Puerto Piramides: This is a small town on the east coast of Peninsula Valdes where you can find several tour operators offering whale-watching tours. Most tours depart from the harbour and take you out to the open sea to see orcas, dolphins, and other marine wildlife.
- Puerto Madryn: This city is located near Peninsula Valdes and is a popular destination for whale-watching tours. Most tours depart from the harbour and take you out to the open sea to see orcas, whales, dolphins, and other marine wildlife.
It’s important to choose a reputable tour operator that follows responsible whale-watching practices to minimize disturbance to the animals.
Why are Orcas Called Killer Whales?
Because of their well-known reputation as dangerous predators, orcas are often referred to as killer whales. Orcas, however, are not whales. They belong to the dolphin family and they are the biggest dolphins in the world.
Being at the top of the food chain and without any natural predators, orcas are classified as “apex predators”. On Peninsula Valdes, orcas can hunt and kill a variety of prey, including seals, sea lions, and in some rare situations even whales.
Other Wildlife of Peninsula Valdes
Peninsula Valdes is home to a wide variety of species that you can see in their native habitat, in addition to orcas. You can choose from a variety of Argentina Wildlife tours to see the Southern right whales (between July and November) when they gather around the Peninsula Valdes coast to mate and give birth to their calves. On the beaches and in the waterways, you can also spot fur seals, elephant seals, and sea lions relaxing or mating.
Also, a variety of bird species, such as the graceful albatross, the incredible oystercatcher, and the inquisitive penguin, can be seen on Peninsular Valdes. The Peninsula is a prime area for birding because many bird species use this area as a resting place during the migration season.
Out on the plains of Peninsula Valdes, you can see the guanacos and rheas – South America’s largest land birds.
While orcas may draw you to Peninsula Valdes, the region will surprise you with how much wildlife you can observe during your visit.
And if you are up for some further excitement, you can continue your explorations of Patagonia in Chile where you have a good chance of spotting a puma. If you’d like to know more, this guide describes how to see pumas on an organised tour. Alternatively, you can try your luck on an independent puma tracking adventure.