Southern right whales are large stocky whales. They are easy to identify as they have a uniform dark color with white outgrowths of hard skin (callosities) on and near their heads, which can even distinguish individuals. Their body is rotund and their head very large, being one-third of their total length. The Southern right whale lacks a dorsal fin and a grooved throat, which is unusual for baleens. Their flippers are wide and short, and their blow hole is V-shaped.
The Southern right whale lives in southern and sub-Antarctic seas, except during the breeding season in winter. During this time, the whales migrate to the southern parts of South America, Africa, and Australia, where there are warmer temperate waters. They live in oceans and coastal waters.
Southern right whales form groups of as many as 12 individuals, though they are more typically found in groups numbering two or three, except at feeding grounds. Although they are slow swimmers, these whales are highly acrobatic, doing 'head-stands' by tipping upside-down vertically while waving their flukes about, waving their flippers and slapping them on the water's surface, as well as breaching - for as many as 10 times one after the other: turning while in midair and falling back into the water on their back or side. Breaching may be used to dislodge parasites from their bodies but is also a form of display during mating. They also commonly do 'sailing', using their flukes to sail along in the wind. They often also spyhop and lobtail, and bellow and moan when at breeding grounds.
Southern right whales are polyandrous, with females having up to 7 partners. Males do not typically fight or show jealousy with regard to mating. They mate and calve from June to November. Females bear young every 3 to 4 years. The gestation period is 11 to 12 months. Pregnant females last for four months over winter without eating, and bear a single large calf of up to 1,500 kilograms. Female whales nurture and feed their offspring in the shallows, well protected from great white sharks and orcas. After a year calves are weaned, and they will attain sexual maturity when they are nine to ten years old.
The main threats to these whales include collisions with large vessels or ships in highly commercial areas, chemical pollution which may affect the whale's health or their food supply, aquatic constructions like sewage plants, ocean-based oil refineries and aquatic mining that can negatively affect the whale's environment and ecosystem, and many other issues, from global warming to agricultural changes.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Southern right whale is about 7,500 individuals. Today this whale’s numbers are increasing and its status is Least Concern (LC) on the list of threatened species.