– When do you study / research the orca?
We are a volunteer organization and as such, most of us are not on location all year. We live in various places around the world and arrive at Punta Norte in Feb/March and typically stay until April. One of our team members lives at Punta Norte, so he is there most of the year.
– When do the orca come to Punta Norte?
There are four factors which strongly influence when the orca arrive and hunt at Punta Norte.
THE TIME OF THE YEAR – February-April are the three main months. This correlates with the pupping season for the Southern Sea Lions (Otaria flavescens). The pups are born in January and begin learning to swim a few weeks later. These pups are the sealions which the orca typically hunt (they may occasionally chase juveniles and adults, but they do not do this frequently). Orca can also be seen at other times of the year, but they do not visit as regularly as during February-April.
THE WEATHER – strong winds from any of the Northerly directions (e.g., North, North West, North East) create large waves on the beaches making it harder for the orca to hunt there. The current theory about how the orca hunt involves the orca passively listening for the noises that the sealion pups make in the shallow waters edge. Larger waves may mask this faint noise, making it harder for the orca to locate the pups. And the larger waves may pose a higher-risk for the orca in terms of them getting permanently stranded during an intentional stranding to take sealion pups.
THE TIDES – there are rocky reefs next to the beaches and the orca must navigate over these to get to the beach and to hunt. Typically the orca can start hunting three hours before high tide, until three hours after high tide. If you are wishing to correlate your arrival with this time, you can go to www.hidro.gov.ar and look for the tides for Puerto Madryn. You must add 3 hours and 20 minutes to the high tide time for Puerto Madryn, to give you the high tide at Punta Norte.
THE ‘ORCA FACTOR’ – there are aspects of the orca and their movement for which we have no information. The other three conditions (time of the year, weather, tide) may be perfect and yet the orca do not show up. We know that orca in Argentinean waters also feed on other prey, such as sharks and fish, so this may be what the orca are doing – seeking alternative food elsewhere. We have evidence that some of the orca are moving at least 150 km away from the Punta Norte area, but they may be travelling much further afield.
– How often do the orca show up and where can I get information about their sightings?
We are a volunteer organization with limited staff and we are out in the field as much as possible. Additionally we are based in a remote area of Peninsula Valdés and do not have daily link-ups to the internet to do daily updates on the orca sightings. However, every season we try and put some relevant information and updates here on our website. We hope to have an email mail subscribe list set up in the near future and you will be able to sign up and receive notification when new updates are posted.
– How long should I stay in Punta Norte if I want to see the Orca?
With many factors influencing when the orca arrive and how long they stay in the area (see the FAQ – “When do the orca come to Punta Norte?”), we can never recommend how long someone should stay. However, if you have unlimited time, the the longer you stay in the area, the better your chances of seeing the orca will be.
If you have only a short time available, we suggest you check the tide chart and try to time your visit to coincide with the appropriate tide (see the FAQ – “When do the orca come to Punta Norte?” – THE TIDES for more details about this).
– Can I stay at Punta Norte?
Typically you cannot stay right at Punta Norte. Instead, you would have to travel each day from your accommodation to Punta Norte. There are a few towns nearby; Puerto Pirámedes, (50 miles/80 km), Puerto Madryn (106 miles/170 km) and Trelew (150 miles/240 km). There are daily tours to Punta Norte from some of these areas, but they do not take into account the tides (tides are an important influence on when the orca appear – see the FAQ about “When do the orca come to Punta Norte?”). The other option is to stay on one of the Estancias (Ranches) located on Peninsula Valdés, which also offer accommodation.
– From where can I photograph the orca?
There are two main areas from which to photograph the orca; El Mirador (The Lookout) and The Attack Channel.
El Mirador (The Lookout) is the public reserve area, also known as the Punta Norte Fauna Reserve. It is free to enter this reserve once you have paid the Peninsula Valdés Park Entrance Fee (which, depending on the exchange rate when you visit is between US $11-$20). You must remain within the fenced area at the Punta Norte Fauna Reserve. There is a small café and restroom facilities. The observation areas at El Mirador are above the sealion colony, which enables you to have a high angle for photographs of possible attacks. Some of the photos in our Photo Gallery are taken from El Mirador.
The Attack Channel is a restricted access area for PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS AND FILM CREWS ONLY. You MUST obtain a government Photographic/Film Permit to access this area which is strictly controlled. You MUST be accompanied at all times by a Veedor (Overseer/Ranger) who ensures you adhere to the regulations and remain within the area.
There are high costs associated with both the Photographic Permit and the Overseer, but as these change each year, we suggest, that if you qualify to apply you contact the Government office directly. The Office website is: www.chubutur.gov.ar
Some of the photos in our Photo Gallery are taken from The Attack Channel.
– What length lens should I bring to photograph the orca?
Regardless of where you photograph from (see the FAQ “Where can I photograph the orca from?”), you may wish to bring a range of lenses. If you have longer lenses (e.g., 400 mm +) these are helpful under certain circumstances, but as each photographer has individual styles, we suggest you bring lenses you like and are familiar with.
– Can I do a tour with the Punta Norte Orca Research team to see the orca?
Unfortunately we cannot provide any tours. We are a research organization and cannot, under the Regulations of our Permits, organize or take tours. However, we hope to be running a special program where interns will be able to stay and work with the Punta Norte Orca Research Team. There will be a series of talks, information and training sessions and the profits will go towards supporting the research project. We hope to run this program in 2010, so please do not stop checking our website.
– Can I come and work as a Volunteer or Research Assistant with the Punta Norte Orca Research team?
Unfortunately we do not have any positions available for volunteers at the moment. We hope to be running a special program where interns will be able to stay and work with the Punta Norte Orca Research Team. There will be a series of talks as well as information and training sessions, and the profits will go towards supporting the research project. We hope to run this program in 2010, so please keep checking our website.
We also suggest you do an Internet/Web search for “volunteer marine mammal” as this may produce some surprising results for volunteer projects around the world. Other searches such as “where do I work with dolphins or other marine animals” may lead to you some other projects where your help would be of value.
– I want to study orca in the wild. Where can I go to study them?
There are many places around the world where you can study to be a Marine Mammal Biologist. Depending on where you live and where you want to study you may have a University or College nearby. We suggest you do an Internet/Web search for “Marine Mammal Biologist” and add the name of your local University to the search. Additionally there are programs where you can pay to join an established Team to learn about field work. There are a number of such programs available, again, depending on where you live and how far you want to travel.
We suggest you also do a search for “volunteer marine mammal” as this may produce some surprising results for volunteer projects around the world. Other searches such as “where do I work with dolphins or other marine animals” may lead to you some other projects where your help would be of value.