The Southern Right Whale,”Eubalaena australis” is a large black stocky whale that has a number of features making identification relatively easy. They reach a maximum length of 17m and weight of 80 – 90 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. This latter feature enables researchers to gather vital life history information on this species. This distinctive appearance combined with its slow moving behaviour make it difficult to confuse with any other species. The common name refers to the fact that it was the favoured target of the early whalers, the ‘right ‘ whale to hunt.
DISTRIBUTION, HABITAT AND STATUS
The Southern Right Whale inhabits the southern and sub-antarctic oceans except during the winter breeding season. During this breeding season the whales migrate to warmer temperate waters around the southern parts of the African, South American and Australian land masses.
Like the Humpback, commercial whaling decimated Southern Right Whale numbers. Its habit of lingering in bays and sheltered coastal areas made it an easy target so much so that it had virtually disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century. Fortunately, with strong protection its numbers are gradually increasing and the species is returning to most of its former range.
FOOD AND FEEDING
Like all the baleen whales, Southern Rights are essentially filter feeders, using their finely meshed long narrow plates to catch their prey, usually copepods or krill. They do not undertake the spectacular feeding displays of the Humpback, but use a steady open mouthed movement through prey swarms skimming out the food.
Calving is thought to occur only every three to five years. A single young is born after a gestation period of 12 months and within a year, the calf is weaned and independent.