FEBRUARY TO MID MAY
Every year between February and May, one of the most fascinating predatory behaviors in the animal kingdom takes place 80 kilometers from Puerto Piramides: the intentional stranding of orca whales at the Punta Norte sea lions colony.
Admired throughout the world for their unique hunting technique, Punta Norte orca have appeared in many prestigious documentaries and are the target of visitors that come between February and May to Peninsula Valdes.
When to watch them in Punta Norte
There are four factors that influence when the orcas hunt at Punta Norte:
Time of the year: Late February-Mid May.
This correlates with the pupping season for South American sea lion. Sea lion pups are born in January and learn to swim a few weeks later. These pups are the prey that orca generally hunt.
Orcas can also be seen at other times of the year, however sightings are not as frequent as during the February – May period.
There are rocky reefs next to the beach, and orcas must swim over these to beach themselves and to hunt. Orca can usually start hunting three hours before high tide, until three hours after high tide. If you want to calculate Punta Norte tides you can visit the site www.hidro.gov.ar and there search for the tides for Puerto Madryn. Add 3 hours and 20 minutes to the high tide time in Puerto Madryn to get the time of the high tide in Punta Norte.
Strong winds from the north (north, northwest, northeast) cause a violent coastal swell. The strong waves can cover the prey sounds, making it difficult for the orcas to hunt. In addition, large waves represent a great risk for the whales, and can cause them to get stranded during the hunt. So it is important to know the weather forecast before planning your trip to Punta Norte
The “orca factor”:
There are certain aspects of orcas and their movements about which we lack information. The previous three conditions may be perfect and yet they may not appear. It is known that orcas in Argentine waters also feed on other prey, such as dolphins, sharks and fish, so that is perhaps what they do: they look for other feeding alternatives in other places. There is certain evidence indicating that some of these whales move at least 150 km away from the Punta Norte area, and may perhaps go even further.
For more information about the orca visit Punta Norte Orca Research website
When to watch them at Caleta Valdes
Caleta Valdes is one of the elephant seal colonies where visitors can see the animals from a path with observation areas.
Time of the year: October - November
Although orca can also be seen at other times of the year, in October and November we can find them inside Caleta Valdés where they feed on elephant seals calves. Female elephant seals arrive to Peninsula Valdes in early September, after spending several months feeding in in the productive areas of the continental shelf. They arrive to the coast to give birth to their offspring.
At 2 1/2 months old, the seals are weaned and have to venture into the sea to obtain their food. That is the moment when the killer whales appear on scene. Using the same technique than in the Punta Norte sea lions colony, they beach themselves to capture the young elephant seals.
It is recommended to arrive 2 hours before high tide, and stay until 2 hours after.
Other factors to consider
Organize your excursion according to the weather forecast, as strong winds reduce the chances to see the whales.
If you are driving, before planning the trip request information about the road condition, because weather (rain) can influence when they are open. You can get that info at the Tourism Office.