Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whale

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Infraorder
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Eubalaena australis
Population size
7,500
Life Span
50-100 yrs
TOP SPEED
15 km/h
WEIGHT
60 t
LENGTH
12.5-15.5 m

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.

Distibution

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 Whale habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

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.

Diet and Nutrition

Southern right whales eat small plankton, including copepods, and pelagic larval crustaceans.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
June-November
PREGNANCY DURATION
11-12 months
BABY CARRYING
1 calf
INDEPENDENT AGE
1 year
FEMALE NAME
cow
MALE NAME
bull
BABY NAME
calf

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.

Population

Population threats

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.

Population number

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.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Southern right whales are active as well as very social with dolphins and other whales, and also approach boats to observe them and any people on them.
  • Because of the thick layer of blubber in their bodies, these whales do not cross the equator into the northern hemisphere as their bodies are unable to cope with the extreme heat.
  • Right whales are the most rare of all the large whales and one of the rarest of marine mammal species.
  • The name 'right whale' is because it was considered the right whale to hunt because of its high oil content and its meat.
  • When these marine animals interact with humans and other animals, they appear to be aware of their comparatively large size and thoughtful about this, as they limit their active behavior around humans and small marine animals in order not to injure them. For example, when a human swims next to a right whale, they will make an effort to not do something that might cause harm.

References

1. Southern Right Whale Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_right_whale
2. Southern Right Whale on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8153/0

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