Extent of whale and dolphin watching
Thirty-five species of cetaceans have been recorded off the coast of Argentina, where whale watching began informally in 1973 when Mariano van Gelderen took his small boat out to watch the amazing southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) in Península Valdés. Mariano was nicknamed “El rey de las ballenas” (the whale king) recognizing his role as a pioneer of what is now one of Argentina’s most important tourism activities1. Shortly afterward, world renowned whale researcher Roger Payne and the photographers and film makers Des and Jen Bartlett, brought worldwide publicity to whale watching at Puerto Pirámides, Península Valdés when their work was featured in National Geographic Magazine and television documentaries the 1970s.
Commercial whale watching tours officially commenced in 1983, and expanded from Península Valdés to other areas in the 1990’s. Whale watching is still expanding into new areas and focusing on new species such as Commerson’s dolphins in the province of Santa Cruz. As of 2018, at least ten communities in four different coastal provinces benefit from land-based or boat-based whale watching.
The industry still focuses on Southern right whales between June and December, but also offers other opportunities, including the spectacle of killer whales hunting southern sea lions and southern elephant seals at Punta Norte and Caleta Valdés, or observing the rare Franciscana at the Río Negro Estuary.
Target species, peak times of year and locations:
The species most often targeted for whale watching include Commerson’s dolphins, Peale’s dolphins, Dusky dolphins, Common dolphins, Bottlenose dolphins, Franciscana, Orcas or killer whales and Southern right whale.
Between May and December the Península Valdés serves as an important calving and nursing ground for southern right whales. Boat-based whale watching trips depart daily from the idyllic town of Puerto Pirámides. However whales can be also viewed from land at Playa El Doradillo, Puerto Madryn and all along the coast of Península Valdés. Between August and October, as right whales prepare to migrate back to their southern feeding grounds, they can be observed during boat tours in the Bahía de San Antonio Nature Reserve or from land in Mar del Plata, Miramar and Necochea.
Commerson’s dolphins are sighted year-round in all of the areas listed on the table below. Peak sightings of this species occur between April and November at Playa Unión and between September and April in Bahía Camarones, Ría Deseado and Bahía San Julián. The species can also be observed from land along the coast of Patagonia (e.g. Bahía Camarones, Ría Deseado, Bahía San Julián, Puerto Santa Cruz, Cabo Vírgenes).
In Tierra del Fuego, boat-based nature trips are run from Ushuaia to observe birds, southern sea lions and the landscapes of the Beagle Channel. Sightings of cetaceans during these trips are sporadic (usually only during the Southern Hemisphere summer) and can include minke, sei, humpback, and killer whales, as well as dusky dolphins, long-finned pilot whales and southern right whale dolphins.