The southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) was so named because in
the 18th century it was considered to be the 'right'
whale to catch by commercial whale hunters, possibly because
it was easy to catch and did not drown after killing.
By 1914 it was nearly extinct, with numbers
estimated at 200-300.
They inhabit colder Antarctic waters for
feeding, then migrate north to warmer waters for
breeding and calving. Although they may move far out
to sea during their feeding season, southern right
whales give birth in coastal areas. Interestingly,
many of the females do not return to these coastal
breeding areas every year, but visit only
in calving years. Where they go in other years
remains a mystery.
Today the number of southern right whales is
estimated at 3,000 to 4,000, with perhaps 2,000 of
these found off the south coast of South Africa from
mid-June to early December every year.
southern right can be distinguished from
other whales by their V-shaped 'blow' and the
callosities which appear on and around their head.
Many people mistake these callosities for barnacles
(although barnacles and other sea life do live
on these patches on the whale's head), but they are
in fact outgrowths of tough skin.
Colour: black with occasional white markings
along back and underside.
Shape: the body is stocky and fat, smoothly
rotund without a trace of dorsal fin or any
ridge along the back.
Weight: 40-80 tons
Longevity: 90-100 years.
Swimming speed: 5-8kph
Gestation: one year
Calving season : August is the best month
Watching season: June-November (peaking in
July and August)
Blowing: This is when the whale rapidly
expels air through
its blowhole. The "blow" is a cloud of
vapour produced largely by condensation when warm
breath comes into contact with cooler air. Although often rather noisy, it is
the whale�s normal breathing pattern.
Breaching: This is when the whale leaps out
of the water and falls back on its back or
side with a resounding slap.
This could be for exercise, communication,
or possibly to "scratch" the parasites off
that live on whales. They sometimes breach three to
eight times in
Tail lobbing: This is the slapping of the tail and flukes
(tail fin) on
the water. The resultant sound could be
a means of communication.
Spy hopping: In this manoeuvre the whale
lifts its head and part of its upper body vertically above
the water surface.
Sailing: This is when the whale holds
its tail and flukes (tail fin) almost
vertically out of the sea like a sail.
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are
in the same family as southern right whales.
Found in all the world's oceans, most
populations of humpback follow a
regular migration route, summering in
temperate and polar waters for feeding, and
wintering in tropical waters for mating and
Humpback whales are often seen off the South
African coast between May and
November as they move between the coasts off Mozambique and
calve and breed, and the colder Antarctic
waters, where they
Adults measure 12-15m and weigh 25-40
Humpbacks are active, acrobatic whales. They
can throw themselves completely out of the
water (breaching), and swim on their backs
with both flippers in the air. They also
engage in "tail lobbing" and "flipper
Bryde's (pronounced "broodus") whales (Balaenoptera
edeni) are found off South Africa's coasts
all year round, but slightly further
offshore than southern right whales. They
have a bluish-gray body with white on the
The Bryde's whale is 12-15m long and
weighs about 13 tons.
are usually fish eaters, often feeding
on schools of anchovies, sardines or herring. While feeding, the Bryde's
whale displays a more regular up-and-down
pattern, frequently arching its back quite
high and diving for 5-15 minutes. When
diving they do not show their flukes.
Bryde's whales rarely venture beyond 40�
north or south, and are most common in
tropical and sub-tropical waters. Often these coastal whales are
believed to reside in one area year-round.
The killer whale (Orcinus orca) is a stout,
streamlined animal. It has a round head that
is tapered, with an indistinct beak and
straight mouth line. A distinctive feature
of the killer whale is its triangular dorsal
fin, which can reach 1.8m high.
Killer whales have a striking colour pattern made up of
well-defined areas of shiny black and cream
or white. The dorsal part of its body
is black, with a pale white to gray "saddle"
behind the dorsal fin. It has an oval white
eye patch behind and above each eye. The
chin, throat, central length of the ventral
(underside) area and undersides of the tail
flukes are white.
Killer whales generally live in pods
(groups) consisting of several females,
calves or juveniles, and one or more males.
Adults measure 8-9.6m long and weigh 4-9 tons.
The killer whale is found in all oceans of
the world, though they are more abundant in
Unlike some other species of whales, which
follow a regular migration route each year,
the killer whale seems to travel according
to the availability of food. They are one of
the few species of whales that move freely