Twice a year, a pod of 23 orca whales makes its way back to the Valdés Peninsula, located in Argentina’s Patagonia to hunt for baby sea lions in a unique, intentional beaching spectacle that only occurs in this region of the world.
The orcas – named by the local elementary schools as Jazmín, Valen, Maga, Pao, Solei and Aiken, to name a few – have a peculiar hunting technique. When the tide is high and the sea is calm the orcas approach their prey directly on the shore by intentionally beaching, risking not being able to come back into the ocean in order to gain access to an abundance of prey in this area. This form of hunting is unique to Argentina. In other parts of the world such as Norway, Canada, New Zealand and Antarctica, orcas hunt their prey while never leaving the ocean, making their behavior at the Valdés Peninsula a one-of-a-kind spectacle for on-lookers.
To celebrate this bi-annual visit by the orcas, as well as the wildlife guards that ensure the protections of the natural reservoir, Argentina hosted its first Provincial Orca Day on March 16, 2021. Travelers can catch a glimpse of the black-and-white majestic mammals and the breathtaking spectacle each year from March through May in Punta Norte and from September through December in Caleta Valdés.
Due to its abundant biodiversity and natural life reservoir, the Valdés Peninsula was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. The observation of the orcas dates back to 1974, when a wildlife guard in Punta Norte identified the most famous orca pair of The Valdés Peninsula: Bernardo and Mel, who visited the area together until 1993. When Bernardo disappeared, Mel continued visiting the coast alone and gained notoriety worldwide after being filmed by National Geographic and the BBC. The orcas were named after scientists Bernard Würsig and his wife Melanie who studied the behavior of orcas in the area for many years. Provincial Orca Day was chosen to occur on March 16th in honor of the last known date that Mel was spotted in the area in 2011.
Orcas live between 50 and 80 years and usually group in matriarchies, led by the most senior female orca. Males can reach up to 29 feet long and females up to 19. At the age of 12 years old, orcas reach sexual maturity. Female orcas are pregnant for 17 months and they give birth to one calf at a time. Young orcas in the family are taught beaching techniques by their elder ones, and later they begin to practice it themselves.