Southern Right Whale
Did you Know?
The Southern right whale got its name from early whaling days when it was considered to be the right whale to catch. The species was slow enough for rowing boats to approach, floated when dead and had a high yield of oil and baleen.
Southern right whales are individually recognizable from patterns of callosities on their heads.
Females produce calves on average once every three years.
Their populations was almost exterminated by the openboat whalers between 1790 and 1825. Approximately 12,000 were killed.
The population off South Africa is increasing at 7% per year, doubling in quantity every 10 years.
Calves grow at a rate of about 3 cm per day and feed on almost 600 liters of milk per day while suckling.
Generally they do not feed in South African waters. Feeding occurs in the sub-Antarctic waters in summer, although there is growing evidence that some animals spend the entire year in southern African waters.
Southern rights were the first of the large whales to be protected (in 1935).
Southern rights dive to a maximum depth of about 300 meters.
Southern rights swim at speeds up to 4km per hour, but can reach top speeds of about 17km/h.
Lifespan is unknown but is thought be exceed 50 years.
Links can be found at that bottom of the page.
THE RIGHT WHALE was so named because it was considered to be the 'right' whale to catch. Rich in oil and baleen (the large food filter plates which hang from the roof of its mouth) and a whale which floated in the water when killed, this slow-moving leviathan became one of the most ruthlessly hunted of all species of whales. Today, the northern right whale is virtually extinct. In the southern hemisphere populations show a slow increase since international protection in 1935. There are estimated to be about 3 000 - 4 000 southern right whales at present, with South Africa receiving the major percentage visiting its coasts annually. Present populations of southern right whales are a fraction of estimated initial stocks.
The southern right whale has a circumpolar distribution and inhabits sub Antarctic water between about 30° and 55° south. The whales migrate south during the summer months when supplies of krill are more prolific, and north during winter and spring to mate, calve and rear their young. They appear around the South African coastline from May to December. They can be seen interacting in the sheltered bays and coves close inshore and near river mouths.
The southern right whale can be distinguished from other whales by its V-shaped 'blow' and the callosities which appear on and around its head. Although many people mistake these callosities for barnacles and although barnacles and other sea life live on these patches on the whale's head, the callosities are actual outgrowths of tough skin which form different patterns on each individual and which are a useful form of identification. To hear a whale 'blow' is like hearing the breath of life. The blow is a cloud of vapor produced largely by condensation when warm breath comes into contact with cooler air. It also contains oily mucus from the respiratory tract of the whale. Whales are large brained and sensitive creatures. Strong bonds exist between females and their calves. In normal circumstances they are non-aggressive and gentle towards man. As yet, knowledge about whales and the role they play in the marine ecosystems is fragmentary. However initial benign research indicates that whales are of greater benefit alive than dead to man. For this reason, if for no other, they need our protection.
WHALE COMPARISON CHART