Eubalaena australis - The Southern Right Whale

The Southern Right Whale is seen along the coastline of South Africa every year between July and December. The Southern Right Whale has a higher population than its northern counterparts, and is seen along the coastline of South Africa every year between July and December In fact, there are only a few hundred Northern Right Whales individuals left in existence.

Did you know? Every year, between about July and December, whales skirt the coastline of South Africa as they migrate for the purposes of calving and mating in warmer waters (a welcome change from their icy Antarctic habitat). Usually, they come very close to the shore, delighting onlookers as they breach, spyhop and lobtail; often peeping out from the sea to catch a glimpse of their human audience.

The whales got their name in the days of whale hunting, when their robust shape and tendency to float when dead (making them far easier to haul aboard) made them the “right” whales to kill. While whale hunting has been banned in many places around the world, these animals are, sadly, still susceptible, whether legally or illegally.

The Southern Right Whale’s body is sturdy and round, with a particularly large head. The hard, horny skin outgrowths on the head, called callosities, usually assist with identification and can even be used in the identification of individual whales, so unique are their arrangements.

This whale has no dorsal fin at all, which is very unusual for baleen whales (those that filter their food through massive sieve-like structures in their mouth). The pectoral fins are short and wide, and tails are large, aiding in propulsion (albeit slow) and steering.


The Southern Right whale reaches lengths of between 11 and 18 m. A newborn calf is about 5.5 m long.


Depending on gender, habitat and the availability of food, the Southern Right Whale adult can weigh between 30 and 80 tonnes.


The Southern Right Whale is migratory, found in the waters of the Southern Hemisphere. During the summer months, they are found in the open waters, where they are able to feed far more abundantly. In the winter and spring, they approach the coasts of South Africa, Australia and South America to calve and feed, and delight onlookers with their antics.

See this impressive whale in the South African areas of False Bay (just outside the suburbs of Cape Town), Cape Agulhas (near Arniston), the Cape West Coast (home to St Helena Bay and Saldanha Bay), the Garden Route (including the waters off Mossel Bay, Wilderness, Knysna and Plett), and St Lucia (about 250 kilometres from Durban and its international airport).


This whale is found in the open waters of the Southern Hemisphere during summer and along the coastlines of Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and South America during the cooler seasons.


The Southern Right Whale feeds by sieving small marine crustaceans through dense baleen plates in their mouths. They suck the water in through these plates and trap tiny krill in the sieve-like structures.


Southern Right Whales are playful and active, despite their large structure. Onlookers can frequently see them lobtailing, spyhopping, breaching and waving their tails out of the water while facing the bottom of the ocean. They are inquisitive, known for investigating boats and other objects in the water by nudging them playfully.

This whale species travels in pods of two or three individuals, but may opt for groups of up to 12 whales. This would depend on the ready availability of food. They stick to separate breeding groups, and travel to their own areas to reproduce. Males are not particularly aggressive, and several males (up to five or eight, in fact) may mate with one female, which is rather unusual for mammals.

They communicate through a series of short moans, pulses and groans, which have a low frequency. This type of communication is of paramount importance to the individual pod and to the wider population of Southern Right.


Mating usually occurs in July and August. Females will typically produce a calf every three years, giving birth between the chilly winter months of June and August. During the calving season, a female will go for around four months without feeding, surviving off the rich reserves of her blubber.

Cows give birth to a single calf, which they nurse in the shallow waters of the coastline until the baby is large and strong enough to survive the open waters and the predators found therein. Weaning takes place when the calf is around 12 months old. The Southern Right reaches sexual maturity at about 10 years of age.


Southern Right Whales have a gestation period of between 11 and 12 months.

Life Expectancy

This whale species lives for between 50 and 60 years in the wild.


Killer Whales (or Orcas) and Great White Sharks threaten young Southern Right calves, who are smaller, weaker and, therefore, more vulnerable to these accomplished hunters.


As with so many other whales, the main threats facing Southern Rights are fishing nets, poaching and pollution.

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Where to see Southern Right Whale in their natural habitat?

Want to go whale watching in South Africa? South Africa is known as one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Explore our 'whale watching' pages below to find out when, where and how to see the whales in South Africa...

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Southern Right Whale
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