The Valdes Peninsula in Argentina brings together an extraordinary mix of marine and land animals, making it a UNESCO World Heritage site. Known in Spanish as the Península Valdés, this Patagonian nature reserve is the temporary home to migrating colonies of whales, penguins, and dolphins throughout the year. Meanwhile, on land, elephant seals, sea lions, and other native Patagonia species can be found all year round. In addition, an estimated 181 bird species can also be spotted in and around the peninsula.
Southern right whale
It's difficult to name a headline attraction of the peninsula, but the southern right whale, which can weigh up to 47 tons, is certainly the biggest. The right whale was given its name because whalers considered it the easiest catch due to its slow swimming speed and the fact that it floats when dead, making it the "right" whale to hunt. As a result, this whale came close to extinction before becoming a protected species in 1937.
Killer whales (orcas)
While not the biggest attraction in terms of body mass, orcas certainly put on a good show. A pod of about 25 killer whales is present in the region all year round, and they have been seen purposefully beaching themselves in order to catch their prey. The lead orca charges up onto the beach to grab its prey, before throwing it back to the rest of the pod. Only one other pod of orcas in the world has ever been seen to hunt this way.
The elephant seal was hunted to near extinction in the nineteenth century. Thankfully, numbers have since recovered, and it’s now listed as a species of "least concern" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Punta Norte on the Valdes Peninsula is the only elephant seal breeding ground located on the mainland of a continent and is the planet’s fourth-largest elephant seal colony.
Joining the seals on the peninsula’s beaches from September to April are Magellanic penguins. The colony is generally at its largest around November when you can see cute, fluffy baby penguins taking their first steps. They can be seen molting, during which they shed their feathers to replace them, a process that lasts until March or April.
Read more about the penguins of Antarctica.
Choique: The lesser rhea
The choique is also known as Darwin’s rhea after the famous naturalist found the species, which he’d been searching for while exploring the region, on his dinner plate. This flightless bird has become a symbol of Patagonia. The local people use the choique’s body in numerous ways — for food, decoration, rope, and leather. As a result, the bird is understandably wary around humans.
The range of animals and birds witnessed on the Valdes Peninsula is so spectacular that dolphins, which can be seen from December to March, are rarely mentioned as anything other than a sidenote in articles describing the region’s wildlife.