Did you know that during the 20th century nearly 1.3 million blue, fin and humpback (large baleen) whales were killed by industrial whaling? By 1964 several species close to extinction and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) finally banned their exploitation.
Three separate species of right whale exist – the North Atlantic right whale, the North Pacific right whale and the southern right whale. As the name suggests, those that occur in Australian waters are southern rights.
It is believed that the right whale populations first split because of the joining of North and South America. The rising temperatures at the equator then created a second split, into the northern and southern groups, preventing them from interbreeding.
Hunted almost to extinction for centuries across the globe, all right whales have been protected since 1935 although it has since emerged that they were still hunted illegally for decades, notably by the Soviet whaling fleet.
Recovery has been slow compared to some species such as the humpback, but the southern right whale population appears to be steadily increasing.
The southern right whale spends summer in the far Southern Ocean feeding, probably close to Antarctica. It migrates north in winter for breeding and can be seen by the coasts of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Namibia, Mozambique, Peru, Tristan de Cunha, Uruguay, Madagascar, New Zealand and South Africa. The total population is estimated to be around 10,000. Since hunting ceased, stocks are estimated to have grown by 7% a year.
Southern rights move inshore to breed and will tend to settle into a general area for weeks at a time if undisturbed. Mothers with newborn calves will spend a lot of time resting at or just below the surface. With broad, black bodies and no dorsal fin, they can be difficult to see unless a sharp lookout is kept. When they are at rest their blows can be infrequent and barely visible.
In winter to spring, (June to October) Southern Right Whales come to the southern coast and can be sighted from Warrnambool to Separation Creek areas, mainly to breed, to give birth their calves, and to raise them in the warmer, calm waters of South Australia during their migration season. Less frequently, Humpback Whales can be seen off the coast.
Like other right whales, they are rather active on the water surface, and being curious and playful towards human vessels. According to the quantity of observations, Southern rights seem more active and tend to interact with human more than other two species in Northern Hemisphere.
One behavior unique to the southern right whale, known as sailing, is that of using their elevated flukes to catch the wind, remaining in the same position for considerable amount of time. It appears to be a form of play and is commonly seen off the coast of Argentina and South Africa. Some other species such as Humpback whales are also known to display. Right whales are often seen interacting with other cetaceans, especially Humpback whale and dolphins. There is a record of a Southern right and a Humpback thought to be involved in mating activities off Mozambique.
They have very strong maternal connections with locations and gene pools they were born in, and they are known to return to their ‘birth spots’ on 3-years intervals.
All species of right whales are curious, playful, and very gentle to other species including humans. In water, they are known to avoid themselves not to harm swimmers.
The southern right whale, listed as “endangered” by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species),is protected by all countries with known breeding populations (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and Uruguay).
Whaling Around the World:
The Aussie Factor
Many people around the world have tried to tell Japan, “You don’t own these whales – they are wild and free, and should be left alone.” Above all, Australia and her citizens hold an important position in the fight to save whales from these Japanese killing fleets. The Australians actually watch the whales swim by their coastlines as the gentle giants travel to and from the Antarctic Sanctuary. The whales that Australians and tourists watch playfully breaching and celebrating life just off shore are the same ones that the Japanese hunt down and cruelly slaughter.
In May of each year, the northern whale migration begins. Humpback (at least 1200 in number) and southern right whales make their way from the food-rich Southern Ocean to mating and breeding grounds in the warm sub-tropical northern waters.
The 5000km northern migration follows routes around New Zealand and up the coast of Australia – in the east to the Great Barrier Reef, and in the west to areas around and north of Shark Bay and Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.
The whales then return south in November to the colder seas to grow and mature. It is here, in the so-called Southern Ocean Sanctuary, that the Japanese send factory whaling ships with their hunting/chasing vessels. The whales are no match for these technologically-advanced murderers.
In Australia, whale watching has become a $273 million industry annually. The Japanese whaling industry is threatening to kill Australia’s whale-friendly business by slaughtering these beloved and intelligent mammals.
For information about how you can help save the southern right whale:
You can track sightings of all whales along the Otways coast on this website:
Information sourced from: