Whale watching in Argentine Patagonia

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The Southern Right Whales come to the Golfo San Jose and the Golfo Nuevo, the two inland gulfs of the Peninsula Valdes which juts out into the Southern Atlantic Coast of Argentine Patagonia, between September and early December of each year for two reasons which are closely related: to mate and to raise their calves.

This is the largest breeding population in the world. Most years see more than 2,000 whales in the area.

They’re here because the waters are relatively warm and calm; it’s a good place to regroup before heading back out to sea.

On the south side of Valdes, at Golfo Nuevo, there is a steady stream of whale-watchers heading out of Puerto Piramides all day on quick 90-minute tours. I have taken these tours, and both are outstanding because these whales are incredibly social and come so amazingly close to the boat. They are highly recommended!

However, it’s a completely different story on Golfo San Jose. Here, only one group is allowed to travel in the entire area at a time. That means you have the entire gulf - and all its whales - to yourselves.

I have watched them from close and from far. Once, I hiked up the coast, with a mom and calf matching my journey just off shore. I stood in awe as another mom and calf came within five meters of the beach right infront of my campsite, frolicking in the high tide, scratching at their callosites, sailing with their elevated flukes.

And of course, I saw them while paddling. One time, a whale surfaced less than 50 meters from my kayak.

The best paddling of my trip took place at sunset. More than half a dozen whales would gather around us, most pairs, drifting, resting, playing, mating. We’d float in silence, gently back-paddling to fight the breezes that’s push us towards the whales.

As I mentioned earlier, we also heard them each evening, their low frequency calls echoing through our campsite.

Other coastal places may provide whale watching experiences, but on Peninsula Valdes and especially at Golfo San Jose, one can have a very intimate encounter with whales because the Southern Right Whale, while perhaps not the prettiest of the whales, is a particularly social whale. They tend to come to the surface-and stay there-much longer than others which pass in a split-second of dorsal fin.

The beaches here are scattered with whale bones and whale baleens, the long hairy plates they have instead of teeth for filtering food.

This is a chance to really live with and next to the magical, mystical, mysterious Southern Right Whale. It’s a familiarity and intimacy I will never forget.