To see photographs of the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena
australis) click here.
Right Whale (Eubalaena australis)
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© 2014 Kelvin Aitken.
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Taxonomic name: Eubalaena
Other Common Names: Right Whale.
Southern Right Whales
are part of the Balaenidae family of Right Whales.
Mature females are larger than males growing to 100 tonnes and 17 meters.
Calves are born at 4.5-6 meters in their temperate winter breeding grounds.
Females generally breed once every three years.
Southern Right Whales are found in all oceans of the southern hemisphere
from about 20-55 degrees south. Their breeding areas are in the three
southern continents as well as oceanic islands including New Zealand and
many smaller islands including the Crozet, Auckland and Campbell Islands.
Prior to their complete protection in 1937 Southern Rights were hunted
close to extinction due to their being the right whale to
hunt; slow moving, shore hugging whales which floated when dead. Cessation
in hunting has seen their numbers increase over the years until now they
are a common sight in many countries during their winter breeding season.
The most distinctive feature of Southern Right Whales is their raised
patches of skin called callosities on the head (which is about 1/3 of
the body length), snout and lips. These rough, pale patches may be any
colour from white to yellow or pale pink and contrast starkly with the
overall black to dark grey colouration of the body. The surface of the
callosities is very rough and jagged due to the attentions of whale lice
which feed on and sculpt the thick skin mounds into pads of course sandpaper.
These callosities are easily spotted when the whale comes to the surface
to breath especially since they also often raise their chin or entire
head during social contacts with other whales.
Since these are gregarious animals they often approach boats closely so
that these markings are easily seen below the surface. Each whale has
a unique pattern of callosities allowing animals to be individually identified.
Unlike other species of whale such as humpbacks or sperm whales the posterior
edges of the flukes are usually smooth showing no unique markings and
the underside is devoid of any patterns, being plain black or dark grey
like the dorsal surface. On the belly, particularly around the genitals,
are varied patches of white, which are also unique to each individual
but harder to observe.
Southern Rights seem to belong in separate breeding groups, travelling
to their own areas to reproduce. This has developed family groups that
have distinctive markings. The most obvious example of this is the animals
that congregate in the Auckland and Campbell islands. While most Southern
Right Whales are black to dark grey with small ventral patches of white,
these animals have extensive areas of white sometimes extending well up
the flanks or even onto the back and head. Some individuals are even born
completely white, developing dark markings later in life.
Mating among these whales is a complex affair. Males compete with each
other to mate with a receptive, or even non-receptive, female. There is
much chasing and manoeuvring to get the female in the right position,
all the while fending off the interference of competing males who push
and shove or gouge with their rough callosities. Successful mating is
only obtained by a persistent male as the female will often roll onto
her back in order to foil the advances of the competing males. The actual
act of mating does not guarantee that a particular male will succeed in
reproducing his genes as other males who mate after will flush out his
sperm with theirs as the massive testes, the largest of any living animal,
produce enough sperm to flood the females ovaries.
The shore hugging habits of the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis)
make land based viewing a viable alternative to the more expensive and
uncomfortable boat viewing. Southern Rights will often swim right within
the surf zone of sandy beaches but will rarely strand. Females feed and
nurture their young in the shallows where they can best protect their
young from predators such as their Killer Whale cousins or the Great White