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Magellan Straits

Carlos III area 

Canal Barbara zodiac cruise and Batchelor River/Rada York 

Early in the morning, the anchor is brought home and the ship crosses the Strait of Magellan southwards from where she spent the night at Fortescue Bay. The idea is to approach as much as possible to the entrance of Canal Barbara, there where the chart soundings end. Once at this limit, the zodiacs are readied to cruise the whole morning into this channel of quiet waters and wild characteristics. 

We are now in what is considered the Marine and Coastal Protected Area Francisco Coloane, in total counting 67197 Hectares of Protected channels and fjords, with a nucleus of Marine Park extending for 1506 Hectares to the southeast of Carlos III Island. A natural reserve built up around an important feeding ground for Humpback whales. These animals are part of a larger population that uses the tropical and subtropical waters in the Pacific shores of Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and even Panama and Nicaragua as breeding areas. During the Austral summer, they migrate south, the majority of them straight to the Western coasts of the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands. But there is a split during their migration and some of them just reach the southern Patagonian waters instead of swimming all the way South. 

Here, the large kelp beds that grow in the shallow waters around the mainland and islands’s coasts are also of great ecological importance. They support an incredibly high marine diversity. On land, the pillar for the wildlife and vegetation’s large variety is the combination of the practically untouched coastal evergreen forests, the alpine strata with its high snowy capped mountains, the steppe zones, and the freshwater streams and rivers. 

Luckily the weather and sea conditions were with us today, making for a comfortable long zodiac ride to the depths of Barbara Channel, where landscape and wildlife become more untamed than along the main commercial route along the Strait of Magellan. 

Soon some Humpback whale blows are spotted in the distance, but for the moment none close to the channel we are driving in. But when we already cruise about 5 nautical miles away from the ship, the first whales in our area are spotted. The zodiacs drove all the way to the zone of fast flowing current in Paso Shag, where the tidal wave squeezes between narrower passages that lead to the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. 

There, several Humpbacks swim and dive around, including a mother and a calf. All allowed for close approaches and fantastic views. Cameras don’t stop shooting blows, dorsal fins, and flukes. But the morning was not all about whales, if we keep quiet, a concert of growls and snarls echoes across the bay. A colony of Sea Lions lies ahead. Around the islets that sprinkle the area also Fur seals lie on the rocks. The latter ones are just resting in this place, whilst the Sea Lions actually breed here. Curious animals as they are, soon some of them come close to have a look at the visitors to their home. Around them Turkish vultures, Kelp gulls, and the endemic Dolphin gulls can be seen, acting as the cleaners of the colony. Shags thrive here too, making their home of some of the rocky islets. Not to forget the several Magellanic penguins swimming, plunging, and leaping in and out of the surface here and there. 

Back on board for lunch after yet another long zodiac ride, the ship repositions to the Paso Ingles, the channel between Carlos III Island and the mainland. There she drops her anchor at Rada York, at the estuary of Batchelor River, which deeply indents into Brunswick Peninsula. Right at this spot is where we plan our exploration afternoon, steering the rubber boats against its current through a winding braided river and lagoons, now narrowing amongst trees between flat vegetated river banks. 

Just entering the river mouth, a curious Ringed Kingfisher observes our struggles with the first shallows perched on his vantage point for the area. Neotropic cormorants, Flightless steamer ducks, and Crested ducks seem to thrive here, accompanying us all the way to where the waters get too shallow to continue on our progress. A good location to take a bit of time and put the zodiacs on the beach to stretch our legs for a while before retracing our steps along the river and to the ship. But without a doubt, the stars of the afternoon show were the several freshwater Otters we spotted. Not common and just seen on rare occasions, they live in protected rivers debouching into the inner waters of Patagonia and the Chilean Channels. They are of larger size, finer fur, and more of a pointed snout than the Marine otters, which prefer outer seaward exposed coasts. 

All of an afternoon experience into the wild areas of the Straits of Magellan, seldom visited and with their particular array of wildlife and unspoiled forests.

šŸ“· Jonathan Poblete

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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