Mike Unwin
United Kingdom UK

Mike is an award winning wildlife writer, editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

Categories: African Wildlife, Mammals

Southern Right Whale

The Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena Australis) is best known from South Africa’s Cape. During the southern winter, good numbers arrive there  from their sub-Antarctic feeding grounds – to breed in the calm inshore waters.

5 Fascinating Facts

They remain until November before migrating southwards with their calves. In sheltered bays, the whales often cavort close inshore. They sometimes breach clear of the water or beat the surface with their tails. Bulls may grow up to reach 17 metres long and weigh nearly 50 tonnes.

  1. This gentle giant belongs to the baleen whale (Mysticeti) group, along with the blue whale, humpback whale and other filter-feeding giants. These whales have no teeth but feed on plankton. They sieve it from surface waters through fronds of ‘baleen’ tissue hanging from the upper jaw.
  2. Whalers coined the term ‘right whale’ because they considered this slow, approachable species to be the ‘right’ one to hunt. Thousands were slaughtered during the 19th century and the hunting continued until protection was agreed in 1935. Numbers have since recovered well.
  3. A V-shaped spout and the lack of any dorsal fin are both key ID features for this species. They immediately distinguish it from the humpback whale, which is the other large whale most often seen off southern Africa.
  4. The unique white markings – callosities – on the head of a southern right whale are patches of rough, calcified skin. Hence their name. Their whiteness is due to the large colonies of whale lice and barnacles that reside on them.
  5. Southern right whales have the largest testicles of any animal, each weighing around 500kg.

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