Visiting a sea lion colony in San Antonio Este, Argentina

Sea lion San Antonio Este Argentina

While entering the port of San Antonio Este, the pilot told me about a sea lion colony living on the beach, only 2 km away from the port. I was very anxious to meet the fury creatures and I stepped outside the vessel as soon as we arrived alongside. Since I started my voyages around the world on board port container vessels, I had the privilege of touching land belonging to all continents (except Antarctica) and admiring the immensity of three Oceans and many other smaller seas. These voyages offered me to possibility to discover beautiful and interesting places, meet extraordinary people and live some of the happiest days of my life. Most of all, travelling at sea offered me the great joy of witnessing wonderful encounters with marine animals.

The most spectacular encounters of all took place in the South Atlantic Ocean while I visiting some ports in Argentina on board a small container vessel.

I am a big fan of National Geographic Channel and I have always enjoyed watching documentaries about marine mammals, but nothing really prepared me for the ‘face to face’ encounters with the majestic whales (read about whale watching here) and the funny sea lion colony I met close to the Argentinian coasts. I had read about them before getting there and I hoped I would be able to see a few exemplars from a short distance, but I never expected them to arrive in such big numbers and so close I could almost touch their heads.

These amazing encounters will be forever cherished as they offered me some of the most exciting and touching moments of my entire life and made up for all the inconveniences I had to deal with during the voyage – low temperatures, rough seas and the worst rolling I have ever experienced.

In the first part of my voyage the weather was fair and calm. The temperatures were between 15 and 20° and the sun was usually with us for many hours during the day, inviting us to have long walks in the open air and to make the best of our time ashore.

The port of San Antonio Este is the smallest port I have visited so far and it is situated in Golfo San Matias, in the North part of Patagonia.

Valdes Peninsula, Argentina

I always like small ports as they are very close to the towns they serve and going outside for a walk is usually very easy. San Antonio Este doesn’t have a town attached to it, but only a small village and a beautiful tidal beach which is perfect for long walks and great encounters.

San Antonio Este Beach - Argentina

During our two month voyage in this area we visited this small port seven times and each visit offered us the opportunity of getting closer and closer to a big colony of sea lions living on the beach, 2 km away from our vessel.

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We visited them at different hours of the day and we were lucky enough to spend many hours watching their behaviors in complete solitude and undisturbed, from a distance or from a close up, but never crossing beyond the unseen barriers requested for our own safety and their own privacy.

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We watched them while they were lying in the sun – on the beach or on the metal pontoon inside the harbor – during the warmest hours of the day or close to sunset, while they were diving into the water to catch their meals or just to play around.

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We spent a lot of time on the beach – watching them carefully and trying to notice all their moves and behaviors inside the group, all their signs of affection towards one another, all their concerns and struggles, all the fights and the glorious moments of making up in the end. We’ve watched worried mothers taking care of their cubs and protecting them from jealous fathers. We’ve seen young females trying hard to get noticed by ‘handsome’ males and abandoned females struggling to accept their new status as ‘old and undesirable’.

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Life seemed very interesting inside the colony and not too much different from the life ordinary people are living inside their communities, inside their big or small families.

We didn’t have time to get bored and we were always sorry when we had to leave them behind and return to the vessel. All we had to do was waiting for our next visit, hoping that the weather would be nice and cargo operations would last longer. After almost two months of coming back on the same beach and visit our friends, we even had the feeling that we began to know some of the individuals and we were very happy to recognize them among the big crowd. We might have been totally wrong about distinguishing one sea lion from another, but we wanted to believe it so much that we even started to name them, taking into account their appearances or behaviors.

We sometimes enjoyed imagining stories about their love lives and about relationships and we became very sad when we discovered – sometimes very soon – that a so called ‘happy marriage’ ended up in a divorce and both members looked even happier with new companions.

I will never forget those funny moments we witnessed on the beach when the sea lions were all lying on the sand and moving only little by little each time the water was advancing towards them – as the high tide was coming. They all looked so peaceful and quiet for a few minutes, but their mood changed so fast as the water began to ‘grow’ and touched their dry bodies. They suddenly woke up – visibly disturbed and nervous – put 2-3 meters between them and the water and lay back in the relaxing position for few minutes more before starting all over again … and again.

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The colony couldn’t enjoy the silence for more than few minutes as the sea lions always found new reason for quarrelling, fighting or disagreeing. Then, the sighs, the cries, the heavy breathings and the coughs were getting louder and louder until one of the participants decided to put a stop to it and chose to continue his siesta someplace else, away from the crowd. At least for him, the fight was over and peace was restored.

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As the sun was slowly coming down, the noises died out, becoming less and less audible until perfect silence took over and the members of the colony fell asleep, some of them embraced by their loved ones, others enjoying perfect solitude.

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All we had to do was go back to our vessel and always hope to return the next day, next week or next month. We are still hoping to go back there someday and, even if we have to wait few more years to do it, we’ll be very happy to see our furry friends again and meet the new members of the colony.

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