Peninsula Valdes emerged from the sea millions of years ago in the region of Patagonia Argentina, and today is a refuge for many marine and terrestrial species.
Millions of years ago, the powerful forces that lie dormant inside the Earth pushed up the coast of the region of Patagonia, in Argentina. The coast was transformed, and a new peninsula rose from the sea.
The cliffs along this shore still today retain the traces of their past beneath the ocean, fossils that testify to the amazing variety of life forms which, already in distant times, inhabited these waters. Today, this profusion of life still exists, and forms the basis of the diet of the thousands of marine mammals that every year come here to breed.
The Valdés Peninsula has become a unique refuge for those marine animals that require solid land on which to bring their young into the world.
Sea lions and elephant seals periodically occupy its beaches, in an annual cycle which has continued, uninterrupted, for thousands of years.
Like them, the southern right whales also come here each year to procreate. The peninsula is today one of the last places on Earth where these colossuses of the sea can find refuge. As every year, when June comes around, the southern right whales reach the calm waters of the Nuevo and San José Gulfs. They remain here until November, when they move to the cold waters of the South Atlantic, in search of krill, a tiny crustacean which forms their basic diet.
Fourteen metres long and weighing 35,000 kilos, they are the largest of the visitors to the peninsula.
The cloudy waters in which they swim are full of microorganisms which constitute the basis of this profusion of animal life. They are the food of the crustaceans and fish, which in turn will be eaten by the large marine mammals that visit the peninsula.
The origin of such abundance lies in the strategic location of this land.
The Valdés peninsula is in the region of North Patagonia, in Argentina, in an area where warm sea currents from the north meet colder ones from the South, thereby creating ideal conditions for the development of a great diversity of marine life. A very different situation from that on land, where the flora and fauna must struggle to survive in a far more hostile environment.
The cold lands of the peninsula receive little rain, less than 250 mm a year. The vegetation is almost exclusively composed of small bushes and grasses, which are buffeted by the constant winds blowing across the region, in gusts of up to 100 kilometres an hour.
The local fauna has also had to adapt to these conditions, and no better protection from the cold than a thick coat of wool.
The guanacos are the largest members of the camel family in South America, and the ones that have best adapted to the harsh conditions of the peninsula. Well, harsh for them. For some of their neighbours, on the other hand, the Valdés Peninsula is a paradise compared to the cold waters of the Atlantic.
The peninsula presents one more obstacle for the local fauna to overcome.
As a consequence of the climatic conditions, there is very little vegetation on the plains, and nowhere to hide. For the guanacos this is no problem, but for the mara, or Patagonian hare, this is a serious drawback.
In the nineteenth century, a new species joined the local fauna of the region: the domesticated sheep
Though the land is very poor, and so useless for agriculture, its wide plains can support extensive grazing, and from early on sheep and cattle farming became the main activity across the vast expanses of Patagonia.
The arrival of the sheep meant not only a new species competing for the scarce pasture of the region. It also brought with it indiscriminate hunting of the local fauna. Either because they were a threat to the sheep, or for their meat. Or, in the case of the birds, their feathers. Guanacos and rheas were subjected to enormous hunting pressure, which drastically reduced their numbers.
Today, fortunately, the different species that live on the peninsula are protected, and no longer have to worry about attacks from humans, only the natural predators that still inhabit the peninsula.