To witness these majestic mammals steam through the sea is quite a spectacular sight. Between May and July, you may be lucky enough to spot them at Wildlife Wonders as they migrate north along the coast in search of warmer temperate waters.
Southern Right Whales can grow anywhere between 14 and 18 metres and weigh up to 80 tons – that’s as much as eight African elephants! Unlike other whale species, they have black-stocky bodies, lack a dorsal fin and possess white growths of calcified skin on their heads and chins known as callosities. They are slow and steady swimmers, only reaching maximum speeds of 9 to 11 km/h. The two blowholes on top of the head enable breathing.
Southern Right Whales are a type of baleen whale. This means they lack true teeth and instead have plates of baleen in their mouths which they use to capture krill, copepods and small crustaceans for feeding. These whales are therefore ‘filter feeders’ – as they swim, water flows in and out of their mouths and they use the baleen to filter out their prey.
With a lifespan of up to 100 years, the Southern Right Whale is one of the longest-lived whale species. Reproduction occurs over a 12 month gestation period, with a single calf born at a time. Newborns are typically white or grey in colour and travel alongside their mothers for about one year before they become independent.
Southern Right Whales were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1920s, but global conservation efforts have seen numbers recover to an estimated 10,000 individuals worldwide. Approximately 3,500 live in Australian waters, and nationally they are still considered endangered. Entanglement in fishing equipment, collisions with vessels and global warming (which may be altering prey supply) are amongst the most imminent threats to the species.
If you’re very lucky, as you gaze out to the ocean from the hills at Wildlife Wonders, you might just get a glimpse of these mighty marvels during their migration from the Southern Ocean in the winter months.