Southern Right Whale
Hunted almost to extinction, the southern right whale is clinging on to survival
What you need to know about the Southern Right Whale
Our Expert Says… "RIght whales can be very difficult to spot in bigger seas because they don't have a dorsal fin. This means that when they surface they can easily be hidden by even modest waves. If we do see one, you can confirm it's a Right whale by looking for the patches of barnacles that will be present around the head."
There are thought to be fewer than 10,000 Southern right whales remaining. They are so-named because they were deemed the “right whale to hunt” as they were recognized to be a slow-swimming species that laid down plenty of whale oil and blubber, and the carcasses float when killed, rather than sink.
Growing up to 15m (50ft) long and weighing 50 tons, southern right whales were therefore extensively hunted during the 19th and 20th centuries. Despite harpooning of right whales being banned in 1937 when it became clear how few remained, some illegal hunting still continued into the 1970s. The population has been slow to recover, and southern right whales are listed as “endangered” by CITES.
The Antarctic population was particularly hard-hit, and it’s unknown how many right whales are in the waters close to the continent itself and the sub-Antarctic islands including South Georgie and the Falkland Islands. There are increased chances of sighting southern right whales while you are on passage between visitor sights, and your naturalist guides will assist you in identifying any whales you see.
Southern right whales are known to be curious about ships and are more active on the surface than other whale species. One unique behavior you may see is a southern right whale “tail sailing”. This is where they invert themselves, raising their flukes out of the water to catch the wind, and remaining like that for some time. Rather than an active means of travel, scientists believe that this might be play behavior.
These whales appear to have strong maternal connections to places and related groups of whales. Females are known to return to their own birthplace every 3 years to have a calf of their own, and males may also follow migration routes used by their mothers.