EXPLORE Peninsula Valdes with this slideshow, check the location map and get all the facts and information below.
For slideshow description see right or scroll down (mobile). Slideshow loads automatically (this may take a few seconds to start)
Website Category: Marine & Coastal
Area: 3,600 km2
- Natural habitat for biodiversity (x);
- Significant number of rare, endemic and/or endangered species (x)
Location and Values: The Peninsula Valdes is located on Argentina’s South Atlantic coast, and includes terrestrial, coastal and marine habitats. Its global significance is primarily for the conservation of marine mammals, most importantly as a key breeding, calving and nursing area for Southern Right Whales (which were brought to the brink of extinction by commercial whaling in the first half of the twentieth century). The whales migrate annually from feeding grounds further south in the Atlantic into two sheltered bays protected by the isthmus of the peninsula. It is these two marine parts of the site that are critically important for the whales, while other areas of the 400 km shoreline around the peninsula serve a critical conservation role for other marine species including Southern Sea Lion, Southern Elephant Seals, Orcas, and Magellanic Penguins.
From a conservation perspective the terrestrial habitats (which cover the majority of the area) are less important at a global scale, although they protect significant areas of Patagonian Desert Steppe and associated species. The terrestrial part of the site has been subject to extensive commercial sheep ranching for over a century, and most of the land remains in private ownership, managed primarily for domestic livestock. However there are important populations of terrestrial mammals such as guanaco, big hairy armadillo, and Patagonian cavy as well as notable species of large birds such as lesser rhea.
Conservation Status and Prospects. According to IUCN’s Conservation Outlook Assessment (2017) the conservation status of the Peninsula Valdes is ‘of significant concern’. Most importantly, there has been an abrupt increase in mortality rates of Southern Right Whales on the shores of Península Valdés in recent times, which the scientific community remains unable to explain. There is also concern over emerging threats from pollution, marine traffic and overfishing in offshore areas (beyond the boundaries of the protected marine reserve) affecting wide-ranging species such as southern elephant seals which use these areas for feeding. Nevertheless, populations of elephant seals and sea lions are recovering strongly, after decades of heavy commercial harvesting pressure, and other prominent marine species such as Magellanic penguins are also increasing in response to marine conservation measures.
Although the site’s world heritage values are primarily coastal and marine, a large part of its area is terrestrial, and has been subject to private sheep ranching activity for more than a century. The condition of these terrestrial areas has been stable since the world heritage inscription, and they continue to provide important habitat for significant populations of native fauna.
The slideshow ‘tells the story’ of the Peninsula Valdes with a portfolio of photos by Peter Howard from a visit in January 2020. The slideshow illustrates some of the main features and wildlife of the site, bearing in mind that this visit was out-of-season for whales (which are present from late June to early December), so the focus is on other species. After an introductory trio of photos, the slideshow follows the course of a typical visit to the peninsula, taking in the main points of interest. Distances are quite long and roads are unsurfaced, so travel between specific points of interest is a significant part of the experience, spotting wildlife along the roadside. The terrestrial parts of the site are mostly privately owned ranches without any public access, while access to the coastal areas is limited to very few specific localities. These include six coastal viewpoints (where short boardwalks and information panels are provided), a salt pan, and a visitor information centre.
The slideshow begins with photos of the landscape features, roads and roadside wildlife (guanacos and rheas) along the isthmus of the peninsula, including the visitor centre (Istmo Carlos Ameghino) with its viewing tower and whale skeleton exhibit. It continues with photos of the coastal cliffs around the village of Puerto Piramides, and the nearby sea lion colony. From here, it illustrates the main points of interest on a typical tour of the peninsula, starting with the cliff-top viewpoint overlooking a small colony of magellanic penguins on the Atlantic seaboard at Caleta Valdes, and the nearby elephant seal colony (where other wildlife, such as Patagonian cavy and big hairy armadillo, put in an appearance). The tour continues along the coastal road northwards, past sheep ranches and signage warning visitors to stay on the road, to the northern tip of the peninsula at Punta Norte. Here a large mixed colony of Southern Sea Lions and Southern Elephant Seals can be observed at relatively close quarters from a boardwalk, one of the main highlights of any visit to the peninsula. Information panels describe these species, as well as the spectacular hunting technique used by a small local population of Orcas (killer whales) that intentionally strand themselves on the shores here to catch young sea lions and seals.
A little further west, along the northern shores of the peninsula, the San Lorenzo ranch offers visitors the opportunity to visit the peninsula’s main penguin colony. This is a wonderful ‘close encounter’ experience, as the penguins are unafraid of people and visitors are able to observe them massed along the water’s edge and walk amongst them through the breeding colony, passing the nest burrows, parents and young. Within the penguin colony, the remains of a factory that processed the meat, oil and skins of sea lions during the last century provides a poignant reminder of the devastation inflicted on nature in the past, and the importance of today’s conservation efforts.
The final part of the slideshow features the shoreline along the northern side of the isthmus in the San Jose Gulf. This is the only part of the peninsula where visitors are able to walk freely along the shore (although it is primarily a recreational area for local people, rather than international visitors) and take time to see the variety of marine life along the strandline and in the tidal rock-pools. Nearby, distant views of a variety of sea birds on Bird Island can be enjoyed from a small lookout shelter and observation platform on the mainland.