Photographing the unique stranding behavior of Patagonian Orcas
Many years ago (bit of an understatement there), life began in the sea. And then, gradually, animals evolved to the point where they left the oceans and wandered onto land. This took awhile, but you’d think that once animals were used to living on land, they’d stay there.
Well, some went back to live in the ocean, and those creatures became whales and dolphins. Which is why they breathe air at the surface and don’t have gills, but make no mistake, whales and dolphins really prefer the water. When you think of whales out of the water, beached, it’s a tragedy, and we’re sure the whales think so, too. Unless we’re talking about a small group of very clever orcas halfway down Argentina. Who beach themselves on purpose.
Orcas, aka killer whales (actually the largest species of oceanic dolphins), are well known for their intelligence, as performing stars of many a seaquarium show. We prefer to see them in their natural environment, but one thing that the human-orca interaction has demonstrated is how teachable orcas are. And in this case, a small group of resident Patagonian orcas has taught themselves to thrust themselves out of the waves and onto the beach in pursuit of sea lions and elephant seals, which must have thought they were safe enough up on the sand. This is one of the craziest wildlife predation behaviors in the world, and only a handful of orcas have learned to do it.
The orcas are smart enough to know that this is only a safe maneuver around high tide, when they’ll get picked up by the next series of waves, and not every attempt they make gets them a meal. But they score about once in every five attempts, and those must seem like pretty good odds to an orca. Perhaps they’re smart enough to figure that out, too.
Argentina protects the beach where all this intentional stranding orca action takes place, and so does the UN. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Peninsula Valdez, at Punta Norte, about 50 miles from Pirámides, enforces very restricted access. Big Animals Expeditions has secured special permission to get close enough to the beach for some spectacular photography of this dramatic orca feeding behavior. We’ll be seated behind a set of camouflaged blinds just meters from the water line, with a front row view of all the action. This isn’t a diving expedition, but the area is rich in extraordinary non-orca subjects for your camera: thousands of Megallanic penguins, the beautiful landscapes of an extremely remote part of the world, and of course, it’s Argentina.