Note the v-shaped blow and white callosities of the southern right whale

Sea life: Southern Right Whales

Note the v-shaped blow and white callosities of the southern right whale
Note the v-shaped blow and white callosities of the southern right whale

During the months of July to October, False Bay plays host to southern right whales (Eubalaena australis), who visit the bay to calve and nurse their young. They are frequently seen very close to shore. These whales can be distinguished by the white growths, or callosities, which appear on their heads. Their mouths are very distinctive, with a strong arch shape. These are baleen whales – they don’t have teeth, but instead have sheets of keratin, forming a massive filter feeding system.

They can dive for up to six minutes, and when they exhale, they emit broad V-shaped jets that can be as high as five metres. These whales can be up to 17 metres in length, and are inquisitive, boisterous and relatively slow swimmers, though they can accelerate in short, impressive bursts.

Southern right whales are very social during their time in False Bay
Southern right whales are very social during their time in False Bay

If you’re the one South African school child who never got taught this, they are called right whales because when they were harpooned their blubber-rich bodies floated on the surface, instead of sinking. This made them easy to transport and retrieve – the “right whales” to hunt. (This is a surprisingly good read on old fashioned whaling – how it worked explained in simple terms, not the ethics behind it.)

Right whale cavorting in Smitswinkel Bay
Right whale cavorting in Smitswinkel Bay

They have no dorsal fin. That, the callosities, and the V-shaped blow should help in distinguishing them from the other cetacean guests (dolphins, orcas, Brydes whales, and humpback whales for example) that visit False Bay.

This list of sightings in False Bay indicates that they can arrive in the bay earlier than July! Here are some photos taken one September in Smitswinkel Bay. Here’s a photo of a whale giving some surfers the fright of their lives.

Right whales churning up the water
Right whales churning up the water

Published by

Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

Leave a Reply