Southern Right Whales
Sunday, 07 October 2007


The Southern Right Whale is a large stocky whale. It's skin is usually black to dark grey with white and/or brown patches. They reach a maximum length of about 17m and weight of approximately 40 tonnes.
It is the only large whale that lacks a dorsal fin. It has short blunt paddle-shaped flippers and the broad head carries a number of white callosities (raised rough patches of skin) that form individual identifiable pattern. Whales breathe air at the surface of the water through 2 blowholes located near the top of the head.

Southern Rights are seasonal filter feeders, using their finely meshed long narrow plates to catch their prey, usually copepods or krill. They have about 200-270 pairs of black baleen plates hanging from the jaws. These whales must consume vast quantities of plankton in the southern oceans - it is estimated that between 600 and 1 600 kg of food might be needed daily during the feeding period to meet the whale's year-round energy requirements. Right whales spend three times longer playing and bonding with their young than searching for food, some going through a full migratory season without feeding.

Whales in coastal waters produce a variety of low frequency sounds used for communication. Whale watchers can hear these moans, moos and growls from the cliffs of Walker Bay. Right whales may have a life expectancy of over 60 years, although this figure is not at all certain (very little is known about these whales).


In late April right whales stop feeding, and leave the southern oceans, travelling north to the warmer coastal waters around South Africa.

            whales mating

They start to appear in the waters of the southern cape in June and increase in numbers to reach peak numbers in August, September, October and November. Watchers from the shores of Walker Bay in winter and early spring often see a group of whales engaged in boisterous mating, with up to 6 males competing for the attention of a single female.
The whale gestation period is about 12 months and the calf is born tail first and near the surface. The newborn instinctively swims to the surface within 10 seconds for its first breath. Its mother, using her flippers helps it. Within 30 minutes of its birth the baby whale can swim. The newborn calf is about 4.5-7 m long. The baby is nurtured with its mother's milk and is weaned after about 1 year. The mother nurses the calf by rolling on her side and ejecting her milk into its mouth with muscles deep inside her breasts. They feed on approximately 600 litres of milk per day! Calving is thought to occur only every three to five years. Right whales only long-term bonds are between mother and calf. The Overberg coast is one of the world's most important nursery areas for the southern right whale.