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.
Southern Right Whale: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Southern Right Whale can be observed
Puerto Madryn, in the northern part of Patagonia, is a whale-watching hotspot. This city of 100,000 people is protected from the pounding South Atlantic by the Golfo Nuevo. It grew from a tiny settlement built by Welsh immigrants in 1865, who gave it its Welsh name of Porth Madryn.
This is a cheerful, bustling city with plenty of modern facilities for shopping, dining, and pleasure-seeking. But the true star of the show is the Golfo Nuevo and the creatures that make its waters and shores their home. This makes Puerto Madryn the perfect place to explore the area.
The whole Valdes Peninsula supports an abundance of wildlife. From elephant seals, sea lions, and penguins, to whales and dolphins, and innumerable seabirds, the region teems with wonders.
After a day of wildlife watching, what better way to recharge than with a superb local steak or some delicious seafood in one of Puerto Madryn’s many great restaurants?
South Georgia and Scotia Sea
South Georgia Island (known as Isla San Pedro in Spanish) is often described, quite rightly, as a highlight of many peoples’ Antarctic cruise experience.
The remote, rocky main island is 850 miles from the Falkland Islands and the same distance from the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s quite mountainous, with a central high ridge and plenty of bays and fjords on its coast, making for some stunning views and remarkable photographs.
There are 8 smaller islands (the South Sandwich Islands) located 400 miles to the southeast which are rarely visited.
South Georgia has a human history mainly centered around the sealing and whaling industries, with relics such as try pots and sunken whaling ships to be discovered. Many people also pay a visit to the grave of Ernest Shackleton, one of the most famous Antarctic explorers, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack while in South Georgia.
Part of one of the world’s largest marine reserves, the variety of the wildlife to be found in South Georgia is what attracts most of its visitors. From the world’s largest king penguin colonies to beaches crammed with elephant and fur seals, to breeding colonies of the bird with the largest wingspan in the world, the wandering albatross, to innumerable species of seabirds, South Georgia is a destination that serves up “days of a lifetime” every day!