The Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) is a baleen whale, one of three species classified as right whales. These whales are known to be rather active on the water surface and curious towards human vessels. They like to interact with humans more than the other two northern species.
The Southern right whale is readily distinguished from others by the callosities on its head, a broad back without a dorsal fin, and a long arching mouth that begins above the eye. Its skin is very dark grey or black, occasionally with some white patches on the belly. The right whale's callosities appear white due to large colonies of cyamids (whale lice). It is almost indistinguishable from the closely related North Atlantic and the North Pacific right whales, displaying only minor skull differences. It may have fewer callosities on its head than the North Atlantic and more on its lower lips than the two northern species. The biological functions of callosities are unclear, although protection against predators has been put forward as the primal role. A Southern right whale's baleen can measure up to 2.8 m (9 ft 2 in) long, and is made up of 220-260 baleen plates.
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 2 or 3, except at feeding grounds. Southern right whales feed just beneath the water's surface, holding their mouths partly open and skimming water continuously while swimming. They strain the water out through their long baleen plates to capture their prey. 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 about 1 short ton (0.91 t) in weight and 4-6 m (13-20 ft) in length. Female whales feed their calves in the shallows, well protected from Great white sharks and orcas. After a year calves are weaned, and will attain reproductive maturity at the age of 9-10 years.
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.