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ON SOUTH AFRICAN WHALES AND WHALE WATCHING

 
 

THE RIGHT WHALE was so named by whale watchers because it was considered to be the 'right' whale to catch. Rich in oil and baleen (the large food filter plates which hang from the roof of its mouth) and a whale which floated in the water when killed, this slow-moving leviathan became one of the most ruthlessly hunted of all species of whales. Today, the northern right whale is virtually extinct. In the southern hemisphere populations show a slow increase since international protection in 1935. There are estimated to be about 3 000 - 4 000 southern right whales at present, with South Africa receiving the major percentage visiting its coasts annually. Present populations of southern right whales are a fraction of estimated initial stocks.

The southern right whale has a circumpolar distribution and inhabits sub antarctic water between about 30° and 55° south. The whales migrate south during the summer months when supplies of krill are more prolific, and north during winter and spring to mate, calve and rear their young. They appear around the South African coastline from May to December.

whale watching south africa

 
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They can be seen interacting in the sheltered bays and coves close inshore and near river mouths. The southern right whale can be distinguished from other whales by its V-shaped 'blow' and the callosities which appear on and around its head. Although many people mistake these callosities for barnacles and although barnacles and other sea life live on these patches on the whale's head, the callosities are actual outgrowths of tough skin which form different patterns on each individual and which are a useful form of identification. To hear a whale 'blow' is like hearing the breath of life. The blow is a cloud of vapour produced largely by condensation when warm breath comes into contact with cooler air. It also contains oily mucus from the respiratory tract of the whale. Whales are large brained and sensitive creatures. Strong bonds exist between females and their calves. In normal circumstances they are non-aggressive and gentle towards man. As yet, knowledge about whales and the role they play in the marine ecosystems is fragmentary. However initial benign research indicates that whales are of greater benefit alive than dead to man. For this reason, if for no other, they need our protection.

Description

Colour black with occasional white markings along back and underside; the body is stocky and fat, smoothly rotund without a trace of dorsal fin or any ridge along the back.

humpback whale south africa

Length

14 - 18 metres

Mass

40 to 80 tons, averages about 54

Cruising Speed

5 - 8 km/h or 2 - 3 knots

Gestation

About one year. Calves 5 - 6 metres at birth. Growth rate about 3cm a day. August is the best calving month. Pregnancy every 3 - 7 years. Lactation 4 - 8 months.

Longevity

Estimated to be 90 - 100 years.
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WHALE COMPARISON CHART

whale comparison chart
SATSA