Unforgettable Shark Diving and Big Animal Encounters

Trip Reports

Southern Right Whale Photography Expedition 2019

By October 10, 2019 No Comments

Amazing Southern Right Whale Encounters!

Simply put: Wow! We knew that Southern Right Whales were more approachable than most species of cetaceans but we did not expect the whales to hang around with us for hours. Also, the sheer number of mothers and playful calves made the trip absolutely exceptional.

Southern right whale snorkeling photography

This year we ran two back-to-back, weeklong trips that included 5 days in the water photographing whales and one day on land exploring the peninsula while looking for terrestrial animals in the desert and pinnipeds on the beaches. Our first week went perfectly, with great underwater visibility and glorious sunny weather. Week too was windier so we lost some time at sea but there was still plenty of opportunities to photograph whales and we managed a second day on the peninsula visiting some new spots with beautiful vistas and even more wildlife.

Southern Right Whale Photography and Snorkeling.

Although the whales were the stars of the show, we also spent time snorkelling with dusky dolphins and southern sea lions. Dusky dolphins are a particularly attractive species that are extremely playful around humans.

Dusky dolphin snorkeling and photography

The sea lions were also very playful, making close passes and sometimes smushing their noses into our dome ports while we happily snapped away.

South American Sea Lion snorkeling.

Some southern right whales were quite rambunctious so we gave them space but others were extremely sedate. The latter allowed us to get close enough to shoot some respectable split shots; one of my favourite types of compositions.

Southern Right Whale Photography and Snorkeling.

On days when the water clarity was at its best, it was possible to see the whales resting on the sand at the bottom of the bay. The bay was quite shallow so I was able to duck dive down to their level to record them at rest.

Southern Right Whale Photography and Snorkeling.

The smaller calves tired quickly after their intense bouts of playfulness. Fortunately, their mothers were always close by, ready to hoist them up on their backs so that they could rest at the water’s surface.

Southern Right Whale calf resting on its mother's tail.

Some days we stayed out all day taking turns to jump in for underwater encounters. On other days we returned to shore by mid afternoon and then headed back out in time for sunset to capture topside images of the whales breaching in the orange glow of the setting sun.

Breaching southern right whale in Patagonia.

Each week we were lucky enough to stumble upon one or two white calves. Rather than albinos, these were basically blonde whales that slowly turn black and are indistinguishable from the other whales by the time they reach adulthood.

White southern right whale calf

On our land days, Hector (the park ranger that was looking after us for the week) got special permission to take us right down to an elephant seal colony for a close up photoshoot with the largest pinnipeds in the world. It is hard to appreciate the enormity of these animals until you have sat a few meters from them and watched them lumbering around.

Southern elephant seal in Patagonia.

We also visited a huge magellanic penguin colony where we were able to shoot images within touching distance of thousands of mating pairs of penguins.

Magellanic penguins in Peninsula Valdez.

Interestingly, on the land tour, the highlight for some of our guests was the habituated hairy armadillos that wandered around Caleta Valdez, digging for grubs and generally going about their ‘business’.

Hairy Armadillos mating in Patagonia.

Every animal looks a little strange in Patagonia. As we drove around the peninsula we came across lots of maras – rabbit-like animals that are actually huge rodents – and hundreds of lanky guanacos; a camelid species similar to a llama but with much shorter hair.

Guanaco on Peninsula Valdez.

By the end of the trip, everyone had great images of southern right whales and many other endemic Patagonian species.

Southern Right Whale Photography and Snorkeling.

The Valdez Peninsula is essentially a desert and a particularly dry one. On some nights we walked out of the village of Puerto Pyramides where we were staying and hiked up to a bluff where there was very little light pollution in order to photograph the milky way in all its glory.

Photographing the Milky Way on Peninsula Valdez

If this trip sounds too good to be true and you are considering joining us next year, bear in mind that there are some important prerequisites in order to join the trip. Because the underwater whale photography takes place under a special photographer’s permit, all guests must have professional level cameras i.e. SLR cameras in full size underwater housings. The authorities also require guests to have ‘photography credentials’. In other words, you do not need to be a professional photographer but you must have a website or dedicated webpage that showcases your images. If you can overcome those small hurdles, this is a trip that you will remember forever! Join our Southern Right Whale Photography Expedition

Southern Right Whale Photography Snorkeling