Latin name: Balaena Glacialis of Australis

Southern Right Whale - Photo: Cetacea

Southern Right Whale – Photo: Cetacea

Southern Right Whales are found seasonally around Australia, South Africa, South America and New Zealand. They favour warmer waters in winter for breeding and return to polar regions in summer for feeding.

Classification

The Southern Right Whale was classified along with the closely-related Northern Right Whale under the genus Eubalaena, which literally means ‘right whale’, referring to the belief that these were the ‘right’ whales to kill.

Local Names

Black Right Whale.

Description

The Southern Right Whale is similar is shape to the Bowhead, being large and stocky, but slightly smaller. They are blue-black to light brown in colour, with white markings, although some albinos and near-albinos have been recorded. The Right Whales’ most noticeable feature is the horny growth of ‘callosities’ on and around the head (primarily near the blowhole, around the rostrum, above the eyes and on the jaw), which can be seen on the picture below. Southern Right Whales measure between 14-17m, and weigh in the region of 40-80 tonnes. Their baleen is long and narrow, with a maximum length of 3m and around 400-540 plates per animal.

Recognition at sea

The Southern Right Whale is easily recognisable from its callosities and V-shaped blow.

Habitat

Both species of Right Whale can be found in polar waters, but in summer they are normally located in temperate and subpolar seas. Calving seems to occur in shallow bays near to the coast, although there is insufficient evidence for this in some areas.

Food & Feeding

Southern Right Whales usually feed below the surface, occasionally near to the seabed, on concentrations of copepods. Surface feeding has also been observed.

Behaviour

Right Whales are, despite their massive bulk, incredibly active cetaceans, with breaching, lob-tailling and flipper-slapping all relatively common. A particular favourite is ‘sailing’, where the whale hangs vertically upside-down in the water, ‘standing’ on its head, with its tail flukes in the air. They communicate through ‘moans’ and ‘burping’ noises.

Longevity

Unknown.

Estimated Current Population

1,500-4,000 animals. Vulnerable.

The Influence of Man

Both species of Right Whales were the first large cetaceans to be commercially hunted by man, possibly as early as the 10th Century. In the nineteenth century alone, over 100,000 whales were slaughtered, and, although having been granted protection in 1935, it is doubtful that this species will ever recover.

Geographic Distribution

Southern Right Whale Habitat