Monday, January 19, 2009

On the wild side

You´d have to go to a zoo to see a larger variety of animals than I saw yesterday. Guanacos (type of llama), rheas (small ostrich-like bird), sea lions, elephant seals, grey wolf, oversized rabbit-thing, armadillos, magellanic penguins and all sorts of other birds were on the menu.

The trip started with a two-hour cruise along the coast to see some sea lion (sea wolf--lobo marino--in Spanish) colonies. Next stop was a bit of snorkeling (sorry no photos) in the chilly water. We had wet suits, so it wasn´t so bad, but there wasn´t much to see, thanks, in part, to recent storms, which made the water green and murky.

Once ashore, we had a stop at a small penguin colony. I´ve seen wild penguins before, but never in such numbers. The small colony had hundreds of birds. Apparently there is a bigger one south with thousands. The chicks were molting their fluffy feathers, revealing a coat like their parents´. Soon they´ll be hitting the water.

From Argentina

After that was a visit with the elephant seals. There were only a few dozen on the beach. These non-mating males were simply molting their fur before they migrated--as much as 11,000 kilometers away. The females and the ¨beachmaster¨ males were gone, as they had each lost a lot of weight during the birthing and mating season and needed to eat up.

More exciting was a large sea lion colony. It was quite interesting: a female gives birth to one pup and can soon thereafter mate again. This cycle happens every year. So there were dozens, if not hundreds, of new pups--some born within the hour. You could tell this, because there were tons of sea birds swooping in to eat bits of the placentas. Yum!

The bulls were each minding their harems, with frequent fights and showmanship to ensure no one encroaches on their territory. In this video, you see what happens with a womanless bull decides to run right through a couple harems.

Very sorry to not have more photos. So much of what we saw was at a bit of a distance, as we were in a protected area. But this guy didn´t hesitate to scurry right through the parking lot.

From Argentina

Off to the north today and Uruguay tomorrow, if all goes as planned.

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