Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Whale of a Continent

As a rule of thumb, the best time to visit the fauna-rich Patagonian coastline is the austral summer, when penguins, elephant seals, and other beasts that spend the winter at sea come ashore to breed. Winter, though, is when the great right whales arrive to breed and birth at Argentina's Península Valdés, where the season has already begun at the village of Puerto Pirámides, near the city of Puerto Madryn. Some whales stay until December, but the season is strongest from July to October.

Chile, though, is bidding to enter the whale-watching sweepstakes in a big way. For a few years now, from December to April in the austral summer, the research biologists who run Punta Arenas-based Whalesound have been taking small groups on a slow boat to Isla Carlos III, in the Strait of Magellan, which has the southern hemisphere's largest humpback feeding grounds. On the island, which lies along a major international shipping channel, there's a sheltered, comfortable camp with sturdy dome tents (essential in this often inclement climate).

Whale-watching could be getting even bigger in Chile, though. Last week Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced that the country's entire 6,000-km coastline will become a whale sanctuary. The next likeliest whale-watching destination will be the southern end of the Isla Grande de Chiloé, where the Gulf of Corcovado - not so far from the volcano-evacuated port of Chaitén - has one of the region's largest blue whale populations.


Giorgio said...

Very nice Blog ... Greetings

Matt said...

Good to hear that the entire coast is becoming a whale sanctuary. You don't often hear of any whales in Chile apart from way down south but until mid-way through the 1900s, there was a full scale whaling operation just down the road from here in Valpo, in Quintay. The whaling station is now a museum. There are some photos and a bit more info here. It's worth a visit if you're in the area, even if it's just for the car ride down the twisty lanes and down to the little fishing harbour.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

Thanks for posting this comment, Matt, I was unaware of the whaling museum at Quintay but will try to stop by later this year. There is an old whaling station at the south end of Iquique, in the Atacama, so whales were clearly present along the entire Chilean coast.

Matt said...

No problem-to be honest, I'm not sure the museum shows up in any guidebooks, it's pretty low key and possibly quite new, within the last 2 years or so perhaps. I just chanced upon it when I took a trip to have a look at's not a particularly extensive museum but it's definitely worth a look on a sunny day as the little bay is pretty spectacular and you can walk all around the old complex. There are some interesting old photos up and little snippets of info about the operation as well.

Matt said...

As a late add-on to this post, here's a link to today's (24-06-08) 'paper and an article about Chile signing a deal to protect 43 species of whale(like) critters at the ex-whaling station I mentioned before:

Click here for the article.

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