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Whale-watching in eastern Uruguay

Whales in Punta del Este by Remco Douma

You don’t need to hire a boat or go on an expensive trip to watch whales in Uruguay. Between June and November you can watch them close-up from the beach itself.

Between June and November southern right whales (known in Spanish as ballenas francas) visit the coast of Uruguay to breed in the warmer waters.

Watch them from beaches all along the coast of Maldonado and Rocha, particularly where the water is deep and so whales get really close to the coast (check out this amazing video where you really see the proximity).

It is an incredible privilege to be able to sit on the beach and just watch whales playing only tens of meters away. – Uruguay in Photos

Five best places to whale-watch in Uruguay

There are a bunch of beaches and viewing points throughout Maldonado and Rocha.

The website Descubriendo Uruguay recommends:

A citizen group on Facebook posts information about whale and other sea mammal sightings as they happen. It’s an excellent source of information. You will need to practice your Spanish 🙂

The map below shows beaches in Maldonado and Rocha (blue circles) where it is possible to view whales.

Several viewing platforms (torres de observacion marked in red on the map). The platforms are free to use, and unattended.

Map of Whale watching in Uruguay

The law in Uruguay says that you need to keep at least 300 metres (that’s about one thousand feet) between yourself and a whale. So that means that potentially-harmful tourism ventures using small boats to trail the whales are not allowed.

So save yourself an expensive trip to Patagonia, watch the whales for free and feel great that your viewing is completely unobtrusive to them.

And make sure you bring binoculars.

Whale-watching season in Uruguay

Most sources I have consulted say between July and November.

However today I talked to someone who lives in Punta del Diablo and he says they have ALREADY seen whales this month. So, if you want to improve your odds, come between August and November, but from June you may get lucky.

How to spot whales

The best times to observe are the early hours of the morning and late in the day, when the waters are calm.

Look out for:

  • flocks of gulls circling – they hover above submerged whales

  • churning water

  • spray – the whale shooting water through its blow hole (don’t expect it to necessarily form a “v” shape – you read too many comics)

  • glistening in the water – the reflection of the whale’s back.

These handy tips provided by Descubriendo Uruguay. The page is in Spanish but you should check it out for photos of what you might observe.

Whales in Punta del Este by Remco Douma. whale watching Uruguay
Whales at sundown in Punta del Este by Uruguay in Photos

Uruguay is a whale and dolphin sanctuary – and that’s official

In September 2013, the Uruguayan parliament voted UNANIMOUSLY (62-0) to turn Uruguayan waters into a protected area for whales and dolphins.

Parliamentary petitioners included schoolchildren from Rocha and Maldonado who convinced legislators to pass the law by going to the parliament in Montevideo and leaving hand-written letters with drawings for each politician.

The ruse was the brainchild of the Organisation for the Conservation of Cetaceans (OCC) – cetacea are aquatic mammals, mainly sea creatures like whales and dolphins (Ed. Note: I didn’t know either, hence I include the definition) – a local non-profit which had first floated the idea of a national sanctuary in 2002.

The law applies not just to territorial waters but also to the Uruguayan waters’ “economic zone”.

This is really significant. Most whales which end up on the beach dead or injured have collided with commercial shipping.

With powerful economic interests at stake, effective regulation will be needed. I wonder how stories such as this one, on the death of orcas possibly killed by fracking tests in the waters off La Pedrera reported in 2012, a year before the law was passed, are playing out today.


Red de Avistaje is a citizen watchers network which posts information on whale and other sea mammal sightings as they happen. Facebook group in Spanish.

Photos: Many thanks to Uruguay in Photos 

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