Whale-watching as a way of life: a photojournalist in Argentina’s whale paradise

Maxi Jonas’ footage of whales in Puerto Madryn, showing the connection between humans and the biggest mammals on Earth, has gone viral 

Photojournalist Maxi Jonas is watching the screen while controlling his drone, which is flying over the ocean off the coast of Patagonia, Argentina. What he sees will become one of his many viral videos: a huge whale is patiently pushing a woman’s surfboard, helping her move through the water.

Buenos Aires-born Jonas (44) is a photojournalist based in Puerto Madryn, a coastal city in the southern province of Chubut. His work covering the city’s world-famous whale-watching season on his social media has delivered an array of viral videos featuring whales interacting with each other and also with humans.

Understanding animals as equals is what drives Jonas’ work and his aim is to promote change through environmental awareness. That means the typical photos of whales’ tails above the water are not enough. So, Jonas works with drones, filming whales for hours from the air, until he gets the sequence of the shot that captures the animal’s humanity, which can be admired in full — and in motion. 

Maxi Jonas

“I don’t believe I’m that incredible as a human being, I am not the only one who feels,” he says. 

These long shoots help him to understand their movements, how they relate to each other, and to the environment that surrounds them. By now he feels familiar with them, even on a sentimental level. “We are more alike than we think,” he says. 

Whale watching season in Argentina

Whale season along Argentina’s northern Patagonian gulf officially begins on June 17 this year, and will last until December. The most common species in Argentina are the southern right whale (franca austral in Spanish) and the humpback whale (yubarta in Spanish). They spend most of the season off the coast of Rio Negro and Chubut provinces, specially in the Valdes Peninsula gulf, where some 2,000 whales come every season. 

Maxi Jonas

Back in October 2022, at least 30 whales were found dead on the Valdes Peninsula gulf. The discovery shocked specialists, who struggled to discover what had killed the animals. It was later found to be the toxins in the whales’ bodies. But Maxi processed that shock through the perspective of a whale lover. He noticed how young calves were looking for a new mother and were rejected, being left to take care of themselves. “Was it just the death of a whale? Or the death of a mother, and the breakdown of an entire family?” he thought.

He also focuses on documenting the environmental breakdown, since he sees photography as a way to construct reality. “What people don’t see, does not exist,” he states. So, he travels to distant, inaccessible beaches on the Patagonian coastline, capturing the effects of pollution, usually taking his children Ernesto and Josefina along, to show them what’s happening to the environment first-hand.

As he explained to the Herald, it used to be very hard to find quality photographs of whales. As a firm believer in the democratization of images, his work is free of copyright, available for everyone to use. 

“Everyone should have access to photographs in order to understand things they have never seen before,” he said.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald