Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Southern Right Whale

What was once a town of 2,000 inhabitants over 100 years ago is now a dwindled population of roughly 400 souls. When salt was a commodity the town thrived but you would never know it. No historical evidence remains except for the foundation of the train that would transport the salt down to the foundation of the pier that can only be seen at low tide. Now, the one road town which you can walk from one side to the other in 15 minutes is half trailer park half up and coming tourist destination and at this stage in it´s development it is simply wonderful. We walked down the end of the road still being laid with bricks and it turned into beach. We walked across the beach which paralleled the road across town in search of the advertised ¨huge campground, which I assume is jam packed during the warmer months but this time of year just looked like half vacant lot half sand dune. We wandering through some tiny, tiny campers which were all in use and into a guy who said we could camp anywhere we liked and that it was free! We set up, excited to have our first opportunity to use the new tent and fell asleep under the stars.

We awoke with the sun, ate breakfast as the gas station (they love their gas stations in Argentina) and were going to walk to a sea lion colony when I expressed interest in going on a whale expedition. For 120 pesos ($30USD) I pushed us to go. Donned in our winter gear and Expedition Company poncho y life jacket we waddled our way to the beach and onto the boat. For now, the tour companies all agree that to have less impact on the environment they don´t want to build a pier so they have tractors haul the boats in and out of the water all day. The shoreline, once underwater a million years ago, is filled with fossils and living ecosystems and the water remains a clear blue green. Our expedition out to sea was worth every peso. We saw the sea lion colony we were going to walk to along with lots of birds, seals playing and leaping out of the water and then lots and lots of Southern Right Whales...

and now a break for some fun facts: (I was so enthralled by the day that I hung onto every heavily accented english word that came out of our guides mouth - I swear I could have gave the next tour.) Named so because they were the ¨right¨whales to hunt and kill, they would swim right up to the boats and stay afloat after they were killed. The population had dwindled until they were considered endangered and it became illegal to hunt them. Now, their numbers are up to 20,000 and they continue to be protected by law. Due to markings on the head and body that they are born with they are able to identify, number and track each whale. Unfortunately they are also able to identify them by big holes being eaten out of their backs by seagulls who for some reason have recently become the whales only predator with this behavior. The presence of seagulls have caused the whale to position itself differently when above water with just it´s head and tail sticking out while it arches it´s back under the water. When they are not occupying Antarctic waters the population of 20,000 divides and make the journey to 3 different breeding grounds - south of Australia, off the west coast of Sud Africa y h ere, in the Golfo Nuevo off of Puerto Piramide. The same whales return to the waters they were born in. Babies are born early in the season (June because we saw them!) and come December they leave with their mothers to return to Antarctic waters. When it´s time to return a year later this is the last journey the baby will make with it´s mother. She will let her baby go after a year of showing it how to survive and the way to and from the breeding grounds. It will travel alone for the majority of it´s lifetime.

...Everywhere we looked there was at least 3 whales in view, easily spotted by sprays of mist, splashes from jumping out of the water, an elegant cola, or just a black floating island. We stood in the front with the wind whipping at our faces the entire time and loved it. For 2hrs we cruised along the coast from whale to whale, it was an amazing experience in a beautiful place. I wanted to stay another night and go out again tomorrow. The rest of the afternoon until the shuttle back to Puerto Madryn was spent walking down the other end of the road until it too turned into beach. Even from there you could see the whales from afar and I yearned to go back out again. We waited around at the gas station until it was time to board the bus. As I sat there and observed the close group of family y friends keeping the owner company I began to think that this wouldn´t be a bad place to live.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Friend!

    It sounds like you are having an amazing time! I don't blame you for wanting to go out on the boat again- WHALES! :)

    Well I just wanted to send some birthday wishes your way. The big 25! You've hit a quarter century. I hope you have a great day...which maybe won't be totally spent on a bus. :)

    As for here, everything is going fine. I had an ultrasound yesterday and baby weighs about 4.5 lbs. The doctors think my due date might be a week later- so maybe you'll be back in time afterall!
    Love to you and Happy Birthday!