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Overview

Brief Summary

Species Abstract

The Southern right whale (scientific name: Eubalaena australis) is one of four species of marine mammal in the family Balaenidae, part of the order of cetaceans. The Southern right whale is a baleen whale, meaning that instead of teeth, it has long plates which hang in a row (like the teeth of a comb) from its upper jaws. Baleen plates are strong and flexible; they are made of a protein similar to human fingernails. Baleen plates are broad at the base (gumline) and taper into a fringe which forms a curtain or mat inside the whale's mouth. Baleen whales strain huge volumes of ocean water through their baleen plates to capture food: tons of krill, other zooplankton, crustaceans, and small fish.

The right whale got its name because during the height of whaling efforts, this was the 'right' whale to catch, as it is large, slow-moving and floats when dead. Following serious over-exploitation from the 1600s until the 1930s, the southern right whale population became dangerously low. International protection in 1935 allowed a slow increase in population, but illegal whaling continued into the 1960s. However, whilst this huge and unsustainable threat has largely been eliminated, pressures on the southern right whale still exist. Disturbance from vessels, divers, coastal industrial activity, entanglement in fishing gear and water pollution are all concerns.

This whale is easy to identify as it has a uniformly dark colour with white callosities (outgrowths of hard skin) on and around the head which can even be used to distinguish individuals. The body is rotund and the head is very large, making up one third of the total length. Unusually for baleen whales, the Southern right whale does not have a dorsal fin or a grooved throat. The flippers are short and wide, and the blow hole is V-shaped.

Southern right whales belong in separate breeding groups which travel to their own areas to reproduce. Up to eight males may mate with one female between July and August, but unusually for mammals, aggression between males is minimal. Females calve once every three years between June and August, with a gestation period of 11 to 12 months. Calving females go for four months during the winter months without eating, and give birth to a single, large calf weighing up to 1500 kilograms. Females will nurture and feed their calves in the shallows where they are well protected from attacks by orcas and great white sharks. Calves are weaned after a year, and will reach sexual maturity at nine to ten years. These enormous animals eat some of the smallest creatures in the ocean, filtering water through long and numerous baleen plates to feed on the small plankton including larval crustaceans and copepods. Southern right whales produce short, low-frequency moans, groans, belches and pulses. Typical feeding dives last between 10 and 20 metres and southern right whales are also frequently seen at or above the surface of the water, slapping the water with its tail and flippers, rolling, and breaching (launching out of the water and landing on the side or back). The function of these behaviours is not known.
  • Encyclopedia of Earth. Lead Author: Encyclopedia of Life. 2011. Topic ed. C.Michael Hogan. ed.-in-chief Cutler J.Cleveland. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC http://www.eoearth.org/article/Southern_Right_Whale?topic=49540
  • Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N. 2008. Eubalaena australis. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4.
  • Best, P. B. 1994. Seasonality of reproduction and the length of gestation in southern right whale Eubalaena australis. Journal of Zoology (London) 232: 175-189.
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Description

Known as a right whale because during the height of whaling efforts, this was the 'right' whale to catch, as it is large, slow-moving and floats when dead (5). This whale is easy to identify as it has a uniformly dark colour with white callosities (outgrowths of hard skin) on and around the head which can even be used to distinguish individuals (2). The body is rotund and the head is very large, making up one third of the total length. Unusually for baleen whales, the southern right whale does not have a dorsal fin or a grooved throat. The flippers are short and wide, and the blow hole is V-shaped (2).
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Biology

Southern right whales belong in separate breeding groups which travel to their own areas to reproduce (5). Up to eight males may mate with one female (5) between July and August, but unusually for mammals, aggression between males is minimal (2). Females calve once every three years between June and August, with a gestation period of 11 to 12 months. Calving females go for four months during the winter months without eating, and give birth to a single, large calf weighing up to 1,500 kilograms (2). Females will nurture and feed their calves in the shallows where they are well protected from attacks by orcas and great white sharks (5). Calves are weaned after a year, and will reach sexual maturity at nine to ten years (2). These enormous animals eat some of the smallest creatures in the ocean, filtering water through long and numerous baleen plates to feed on the small plankton including larval crustaceans and copepods (2). Southern right whales produce short, low-frequency moans, groans, belches and pulses (7). Typical feeding dives last between 10 and 20 metres and southern right whales are also frequently seen at or above the surface of the water, slapping the water with its tail and flippers, rolling, and breaching (launching out of the water and landing on the side or back). The function of these behaviours is not known (7).
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The Southern Right whale according to MammalMAP

Southern Right whales are relatively easy to identify – they are uniformly dark with white callosities on and around the head.  They do not have a dorsal fin or ventral throat grooves like other baleen whales.  But perhaps one of their most distinguished features is their blow hole.  Southern Right whales have a well partitioned blowhole that displays a V-shaped exhaust of water vapour – this helps to identify the whale at a distance.

Southern Right whales are filter feeders.  Their main food source is small plankton called copepods.  These copepods aggregate in Antarctic waters and the whales will spend the first half of the year in these feeding grounds building up their energy reserves before migrating to the coast to mate or give birth to calves.

Southern Right whales are polygamous – having up to seven males to one female.  However, there is no animosity between the males mating with the same female. Somewhat unusual for mammals.  Southern Right whales only have one calf at a time.  These calves weigh between 1000 -1500 kgs and are 5 – 6 meters in length.  Born in sheltered bays between June and November, these calves will take 10 years to fully mature.

The IUCN lists Southern Right whales as a species of Least Concern. The population was estimated to be contain approximately 3 200 mature females in 2007 and there has been increased rate of sightings of Southern Right whales.

For more information on MammalMAP, visit the MammalMAP virtual museum or blog.

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Distribution

Range Description

Southern right whales have a circumpolar distribution in the Southern Hemisphere. The distribution in winter, at least of the breeding component of the population, is concentrated near coastlines in the northern part of the range. Major current breeding areas are nearshore off southern Australia, New Zealand (particularly Auckland Islands and Campbell Islands), Atlantic coast of South America (Argentina and Brazil), and southern Africa (mainly South Africa). Small numbers are also seen off central Chile, Peru, Tristan da Cunha (British Overseas Territory), and the east coast of Madagascar (IWC 2001, Rosenbaum et al. 2001). In summer right whales are found mainly in latitudes 40-50°S (Ohsumi and Kasamatsu 1986) but have been seen, especially in recent years, in the Antarctic as far south as 65°S (IWC 2007, Bannister et al. 1999) and around South Georgia (Rowntree et al. 2001).

The map shows where the species may occur based on oceanography. The species has not been recorded for all the states within the hypothetical range as shown on the map. States for which confirmed records of the species exist are included in the list of native range states.
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Geographic Range

Found only in the southern hemisphere, southern right whales have a circumpolar distribution between 30 and 50 degrees south, inhabiting sub-Antartic waters (Ridgeway 1985).

Biogeographic Regions: atlantic ocean (Native ); pacific ocean (Native )

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Range

The southern right whale is only found in the southern hemisphere in all waters between 30 and 60 º south (2).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Southern right whales are characterized by their uniformly dark color and white callosities found on and around the head. Callosities, which are outgrowths of tough skin, are often used in identifying individual whales, as they are unique to each animal, similar to fingerprints in humans. The largest of these excrescences (callosities) is located on the anterior-most portion of the head and is referred to as the "bonnet." Other excrescences are on the upper edge of the lower jaw, behind the blowhole, and above the eye.

Eubalaena australis is on average between 16 and 18 meters long at maturity, males being slightly shorter than females. It has a rotund appearance, a very large girth relative to the length, with an enormous head (approximately 1/3 the body length). Southern right whales do not have any dorsal fins, nor do they have the grooved throat that is typical of the balaenopterids. The flippers are also broad and relatively short.

Another distinguishing physical feature of southern right whales is the blowhole. The exterior of the blow hole is well-partitioned, resulting in a V-shaped exhaust of condensation and water vapor. Furthermore, uncharacteristic of balaenopterids, southern right whales have a well-developed dermis without fat, whereas most balaenopterids lack a dermis (Cummings 1985).

Range mass: 36000 to 73000 kg.

Average mass: 49000 kg.

Range length: 16 to 18 m.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Southern right whales have been well-studied on their winter breeding grounds, especially at Peninsula Valdés, Argentina, and in Australia and South Africa. Researchers have used callosity patterns to identify individuals on these grounds, and have learned much about the southern right whale's behavior, communication, and reproduction. Females produce calves at 3-5 year intervals, usually three years but with a lengthening of the cycle to five years when feeding conditions are poor (Leaper et al. 2006). Calves are born from June to October with a peak in August after a 12-13 month gestation period (Best 1994). Where feeding occurs north of 40°S the diet consists mainly of copepods, south of 50°S mainly euphausiids (krill), and varying proportions of the two food items at intermediate latitudes (Tormosov et al. 1998).

Systems
  • Marine
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While avoiding warm equatorial regions, southern right whales remain near continents and island masses.

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

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Depth range based on 285 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 80 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): -0.857 - 25.748
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.085 - 28.535
  Salinity (PPS): 33.841 - 36.938
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.611 - 8.135
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.098 - 1.987
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.856 - 65.182

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): -0.857 - 25.748

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.085 - 28.535

Salinity (PPS): 33.841 - 36.938

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.611 - 8.135

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.098 - 1.987

Silicate (umol/l): 0.856 - 65.182
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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A migratory species, the southern right whale is found in the open ocean of the most southern region of its range during the summer months where prey populations are more abundant, but migrates up to the coastal regions of more northerly regions of its range during the winter and spring (2).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Using their long and numerous baleen plates, southern right whales feed on small plankton, including pelagic larval crustaceans and copepods. They are most often observed using one of two feeding techniques. The first, surface feeding, occurs when the whales selectively swim through densely-populated plankton slicks with their mouths wide open and baleen exposed. The other method occurs while submerged, presumably in highly dense populations of plankton.

Animal Foods: zooplankton

Foraging Behavior: filter-feeding

Primary Diet: planktivore

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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
70 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 70 years (wild) Observations: These animals stop growing at about age 18 for females and 20 for males.
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Reproduction

Southern right whales are polygamous, having up to seven males per one female. Courtship and copulation is described as being tender and graceful (Cummings 1985). The duration of courting bouts varies, but usually lasts for an hour or two, after which the males and females separate from one another. There seems to be no animosity between males mating with the same female, which is quite unusual for mammals. It is believed that this passive behavior implies intra-uterine sperm competition.

Mating System: polygynous

Southern right whales, so named because they were historically considered the "right" whale to catch, reach reproductive maturity at approximately ten years of age. The gestation period ordinarily lasts for one year, and lactation continues for four to six months. Calves, which are born weighing 1000-1500 kg and are five to six meters long, grow at a rate of 3 cm per day.

Southern right whales mate and calve between 20 and 30° S and mostly in protected bays during the months of June to November.

Breeding season: Southern right whales mate and calve during the months of June to November.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Average gestation period: 12 months.

Range weaning age: 4 to 6 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 10 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 10 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous

Average birth mass: 910000 g.

Average gestation period: 365 days.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
3285 days.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Eubalaena australis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 4 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

AACCGCTGACTATTCTCAACCAACCACAAAGACATTGGCACCTTATATCTATTATTTGGCGCCTGAGCAGGAATAGTAGGCACTGGCCTAAGCTTATTAATTCGCGCTGAACTAGGTCAGCCTGGCACACTAATCGGAGAC---GATCAAGTCTACAACGTATTAGTAACAGCCCACGCCTTTGTAATAATCTTCTTCATAGTAATACCCATTATAATCGGTGGATTTGGAAACTGACTAGTTCCCTTAATAATTGGAGCACCTGACATGGCTTTCCCCCGTATAAATAATATAAGCTTCTGACTACTCCCTCCTTCTTTCCTACTACTAATAGCATCCTCAATGGTCGAAGCCGGTGCAGGCACAGGCTGAACTGTATATCCCCCTCTAGCCGGAAACCTAGCACATGCAGGAGCTTCAGTCGACCTTACCATTTTCTCTCTACACCTAGCTGGCGTATCCTCTATCCTCGGAGCCATTAACTTTATCACAACTATTATTAACATAAAACCACCTGCCATAACCCAATACCAAACACCTCTTTTCGTATGATCAGTCCTAGTCACAGCAGTGCTGCTCCTACTATCACTACCTGTCCTAGCAGCTGGAATCACCATGCTATTAACTGACCGAAACCTAAATACAACTTTCTTCGACCCTGCAGGTGGAGGAGACCCAATCCTGTATCAACACCTATTCTGATTTTTTGGTCACCCTGAAGTGTATATCTTAATCCTCCCTGGGTTCGGAATAATTTCACACATTGTGACTTATTACTCAGGAAAAAAAGAACCTTTCGGCTATATAGGAATAGTCTGAGCTATGGTATCTATCGGATTCTTAGGCTTCATCGTATGGGCGCACCACATATTTACAGTAGGAATAGACGTTGACACACGAG
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Eubalaena australis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N.

Reviewer/s
Taylor, B.L. & Notarbartolo di Sciara, G.

Contributor/s

Justification
Given the recent estimated population size (1,600 mature females in 1997, and approximately twice that number in 2007) and the strong observed rate of increase in some well-studied parts of the range, the species, although still scarce relative to its historic abundance, is not considered under threat at the hemispheric level. The population is estimated to be higher now than it was three generations (87 years, assuming a generation time of 29 years; Taylor et al. 2007) ago. Some breeding populations, in particular that off Chile/Peru (see separate listing), are still very small and may need special protection to become re-established.

History
  • 1994
    Vulnerable
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
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Southern right whale populations are showing a slow increase since international protection in 1935, when over-exploitation nearly eradicated the species. There are estimated to be approximately 3,000 to 4,000 currently surviving in the southern hemisphere. Aside from international protection, individual countries are also protecting these whales and improving their ability to survive and reproduce. In Brazil the Right Whale project has been in effect since 1981. The program's goal is to protect the whales in their breeding grounds off the coast of South Brazil. Program participants monitor and research the current situation, and inform the public about the importance of environmental protection. Since its establishment, the program has, among other beneficial actions, gotten the government for the State of Santa Catarina to declare the southern right whales a state natural monument, thereby assuring its full protection. Other countries have also vowed to minimize human impacts on whale populations. This idea has been followed through by reducing direct disturbance and coastal industrial activity, as well as increasing awareness of the hazards of oceanic dumping that may lead to bioaccumulation and possible extinction.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: appendix i

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: critically endangered

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Status

The southern right whale is classified as Lower Risk / Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1). It is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3) and Appendix I of the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species (4). It is also classified as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and protected within Australian waters under the Whale Protection Act 1980 (2).
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Population

Population
The IWC conducted its last major review of southern right whales in 1998 (IWC 2001), from which most of this information is taken.

Following severe historical depletion by commercial whaling, several breeding populations (Argentina/Brazil, South Africa, and Australia) of southern right whales (E. australis) have shown evidence of strong recovery, with a doubling time of 10-12 years (Bannister 2001, Best et al. 2001, Cooke et al. 2001). The other breeding populations are still very small, and data are insufficient to determine whether they are recovering. Estimated total population size as of 1997 was 7,500 animals (of which 1,600 were mature females, including 547 from Argentina and 659 from South Africa), and the three main populations have continued to increase at a similar rate since then (Best et al. 2005, Cooke et al. 2003, IWC 2007). Illegal Soviet catches (mainly in the 1960s) temporarily inhibited recovery, but overall the population appears to have grown strongly since then (see below).

There appears to be substantial interchange between breeding grounds off the same continent, e.g. between Argentina and Brazil (Groch et al. 2004), but a much smaller rate of interchange between land masses, e.g. between Australia and New Zealand (Anon. 2004) and Argentina and Tristan da Cunha (Best et al. 1993).

Population Trend
Increasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Southern right whales were hunted extensively by pre-modern whaling starting in the early 17th century, but especially in the 18th and 19th centuries by American and European whalers. Not all records have survived, and furthermore there is uncertainty over the numbers of animals killed but not caught. The total number processed between 1770 and 1900 is conservatively estimated at about 150,000, of which 48,000-60,000 were taken in the 1830s alone. By the start of modern whaling at the beginning of the 20th century, the species was already rare, and catches thereafter until right whales were legally protected in 1935 totalled only about 1,600 individuals. Over 3,000 were taken illegally by Soviet whaling fleets in the 1960s (Tormosov et al. 1998). The hemispheric population in 1770 is estimated at 55,000-70,000 and is estimated to have been depleted to a low of about 300 animals by the 1920s. The species presumably began to recover following protection in 1935, but the illegal Soviet catches in the 1960s are estimated to have removed over half of the remaining population and delayed recovery (IWC 2001).

Like their congeners in the Northern Hemisphere, southern right whales are subject to mortality due to entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with shipping (IWC 2001). However, this does not seem to have impeded their recovery, at least in some areas. The lower average density of human populations and thus fishing, shipping and other potentially harmful activities in the Southern Hemisphere, compared with the western North Atlantic, probably makes this species less affected by such activities than is the North Atlantic right whale.

Parasitism by kelp gulls Larus dominicanus, which gouge skin and blubber from the whales’ backs, has been increasing rapidly in the Península Valdés calving ground and may eventually drive the whales elsewhere (Rowntree et al. 1998). This appears to be a learned behaviour that has spread through the gull population, and which is likely exacerbated by the elevated gull populations provisioned by the prevalence of uncovered disposal sites for fishery and other waste.

Observed correlations between breeding success off Argentina and sea surface temperature anomalies at South Georgia suggest that as Antarctic feeding grounds warm up, the average calving rate of southern right whales can be expected to decline (Leaper et al. 2006).
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Following serious over-exploitation from the 1600s until the 1930s, the southern right whale population became dangerously low (2) (7). International protection in 1935 allowed a slow increase, but illegal whaling continued into the 1960s. Since then, the population has been increasing at the calculated 'maximum rate' (6). However, whilst this huge and unsustainable threat has largely been eliminated, pressures on the southern right whale still exist. Disturbance from vessels, divers, coastal industrial activity, entanglement in fishing gear and pollution are all concerns (2).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Right whales have been protected internationally from commercial hunting since 1935, but this has only been fully respected since the early 1970s, when the presence of international observers ended illegal catches by Soviet fleets, and land stations in South America also stopped taking right whales. Although several countries have designated marine protected areas that include right whale breeding habitat, it is not always clear what additional level of protection is offered over and above that applying to whales in the country’s waters generally. Those protected areas with specific management measures aimed at protecting the right whales in their calving grounds include the Area de Proteção Ambiental de Baleia Franca (Right Whale Environmental Protection Area) off Catarina State in Brazil, the Golfo San José Provincial Marine Park (Parque Marino Golfo San José) in Argentina, and the Great Australian Bight Marine Park in South Australia.

The species is listed in Appendix I of CITES and CMS.
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Conservation

International protection by the International Whaling Commission and individual country programs to protect whales has produced significant results since the ban on hunting this species (6). Conservation activities currently include monitoring population numbers and behaviour through the use of photo identification of individuals, assessing the effects of disturbance, and education programs (2).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Although very rarely found stranded along beaches, southern right whales occasionally do cause harm to themselves and, indirectly, humans. They have collided with large vessels and entangled in fishing gear. This causes a loss or reduction of possible shipping routes (in order to avoid collisions) and an increased cost to the fishing industry.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

For the past ten or fifteen years, humans have capitalized on southern right whales, as well as other whales and aquatic mammals. Currently, the increasing popularity of whale watching and coastal tourism has led to the whales having a positive economic impact on humans. The development of whale watching has promoted economic benefits to coastal communities while increasing the protection and awareness of the species - stressing the importance of environmental quality and conservation. This benefit to the whales and their habitat contrasts sharply with previous economic exploitation of southern right whales. They were extensively hunted for oil and meat before becoming protected.

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Risks

IUCN Red List Category

subpopulation Chile-Peru right whale : Critically Endangered (CR)
  • IUCN (2008) Cetacean update of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
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Source: World Register of Marine Species

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IUCN Red List Category

Least Concern (LC)
  • IUCN (2008) Cetacean update of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
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© WoRMS for SMEBD

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Wikipedia

Southern right whale

The southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) is a baleen whale, one of three species classified as right whales belonging to the genus Eubalaena. Like other right whales, the southern right whale is readily distinguished from others by the callosities on its head, a broad back without a dorsal fin, and a long arching mouth that begins above the eye. Its skin is very dark grey or black, occasionally with some white patches on the belly. The right whale's callosities appear white due to large colonies of cyamids (whale lice). It is almost indistinguishable from the closely related North Atlantic and the North Pacific right whales, displaying only minor skull differences. It may have fewer callosities on its head and more on its lower lips than the two northern species.[4][5] Approximately 10,000 southern right whales are spread throughout the southern part of the Southern Hemisphere.

The maximum size of an adult female is 15 m (49 ft)[6] and can weigh up to 47 tonnes (46 long tons; 52 short tons).[6] The testicles of right whales are likely to be the largest of any animal, each weighing around 500 kg (1,100 lb). This suggests that sperm competition is important in the mating process.[7] Right whales cannot cross the warm equatorial waters to connect with the other (sub)species and (inter)breed: their thick layers of insulating blubber make it impossible for them to dissipate their internal body heat in tropical waters.

The proportion and numbers of molten-coloured individuals are notable in this species compared with the other species in the Northern Hemisphere. Some whales remain white even after growing up.[8]

Taxonomy[edit]

The right whales were first classified in the Balaena genus in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus, who at the time considered all of the right whales (including the bowhead) as a single species. Through the 1800s and 1900s, in fact, the Balaenidae family has been the subject of great taxonometric debate. Authorities have repeatedly recategorized the three populations of right whale plus the bowhead whale, as one, two, three or four species, either in a single genus or in two separate genera. In the early whaling days, they were all thought to be a single species, Balaena mysticetus.[5]

The southern right whale was initially described as Balaena australis by Desmoulins in 1822. Eventually, it was recognized that bowheads and right whales were in fact different, and John Edward Gray proposed the Eubalaena genus for the right whale in 1864. Later, morphological factors such as differences in the skull shape of northern and southern right whales indicated at least two species of right whale—one in the Northern Hemisphere, the other in the Southern Ocean.[5] As recently as 1998, Rice, in his comprehensive and otherwise authoritative classification, Marine mammals of the world: systematics and distribution, listed just two species: Balaena glacialis (all of the right whales) and Balaena mysticetus (the bowheads).[9]

In 2000, Rosenbaum et al. disagreed, based on data from their genetic study of DNA samples from each of the whale populations. Genetic evidence now clearly demonstrates that the northern and southern populations of right whale have not interbred for between 3 million and 12 million years, confirming the southern right whale as a distinct species. The northern Pacific and Atlantic populations are also distinct, with the North Pacific right whale being more closely related to the southern right whale than to the North Atlantic right whale.[10]

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.[11]

In 2002, the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) accepted Rosenbaum's findings, and recommended that the Eubalaena nomenclature be retained for this genus.[12]

The cladogram is a tool for visualizing and comparing the evolutionary relationships between taxa. The point where a node branches off is analogous to an evolutionary branching – the diagram can be read left-to-right, much like a timeline. The following cladogram of the Balaenidae family serves to illustrate the current scientific consensus as to the relationships between the southern right whale and the other members of its family.

Family Balaenidae
 Family Balaenidae 
  Eubalaena (right whales)  

 E. glacialis North Atlantic right whale




 E. japonica North Pacific right whale



 E. australis Southern right whale




 Balaena (bowhead whales) 

 B. mysticetus bowhead whale



The right whale family, Balaenidae[10]

Other junior synonyms for E. australis have included B. antarctica (Lesson, 1828), B. antipodarum (Gray, 1843), Hunterus temminckii (Gray, 1864), and E. glacialis australis (Tomilin, 1962) (see side panel for more synonyms).[1][3]

Behavior[edit]

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.[4] Some other species such as Humpback whales are also known to display. Right whales are often seen interacting with other cetaceans, especially Humpback whales[13] and dolphins. There is a record of a Southern right and a Humpback thought to be involved in mating activities off Mozambique.[14]

They have very strong maternal connections with locations and gene pools they were born in,[15] 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.[16][17] Legends of the Whale Rider are renowned in New Zealand.

Population and distribution[edit]

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. It appears that the South American, South African and Australasian groups intermix very little if at all, because maternal fidelity to feeding and calving habitats is very strong. The mother also passes these choices to her calves.[18]

The most recent population estimates, published by National Geographic in October 2008, put the southern whale population at 10,000. The estimate of 7,000 followed a March 1998 IWC workshop. Researchers used data about adult female populations from three surveys (one in each of Argentina, South Africa and Australia, collected during the 1990s) and extrapolated to include unsurveyed areas, number of males and calves using available male:female and adult:calf ratios to give an estimated 1999 figure of 7,500 animals.[19]

Many locations throughout Southern Hemisphere were named after presence of Southern rights where whales are either rare or missing today in some of these locations, such as Walvis Bay, Punta Ballena, Right Whale Bay, Whangarei Harbour, Wineglass Bay, and so on.

Africa[edit]

Hermanus in South Africa has become known as a mecca for whale watching, during the southern hemisphere winter months (June - October) the Southern Right Whales migrate to the coastal waters of South Africa, with in excess of 100 whales known to be in the Hermanus area. Whilst in the area, the whales can be seen with their young as they come to Walker Bay to calve and mate. Many behaviours such as breaching, sailing, lobtailing, or spyhopping can be witnessed. In False Bay whales can be seen from the shore from July to October while both Plettenberg Bay and Algoa Bay are also home to the Southern Right Whales from July to December. They can be viewed from land as well as by boat with licensed operators conducting ocean safaris throughout the year.

In Namibia, most of confirmed whales are restricted to the south of Luderitz, the southern edge of the country, and only a handful animals venture further north of historical breeding grounds.

In contrast to the case in South Africa, right whales are becoming regular migrants but with very small numbers off Mozambique and Madagascar. The first sighting off Mozambique since the end of whaling was in 1997.[20] Recent increases in numbers of whales visiting the north-eastern part of South Africa, the so-called Dolphin Coast such as around Ballito[21] and off Umdloti Beach,[22] indicates the whales' normal ranges are expanding and that re-colonising historical habitats will likely continue as more whales migrate further north.

Latin America[edit]

In Brazil, more than 300 individuals have been cataloged through photo identification (using head callosities) by the Brazilian Right Whale Project, maintained jointly by Petrobras (the Brazilian state-owned oil company) and the International Wildlife Coalition. The State of Santa Catarina hosts a concentration of breeding and calving right whales from June to November, and females from this population also calve off Argentinian Patagonia and Uruguay. In recent years, possibly due to changing habitat environments by human activities and conflicts with local fisheries, the number of whales visiting the coasts is decreasing.[23]

During the 2012 annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee, data was presented regarding the continued phenomena of southern right whale strandings and high rate of mortality at Península Valdés, Argentina. Between 2003 and 2011, a total of 482 dead right whales were recorded at Península Valdés. There were at least 55 whale deaths in 2010, and 61 in 2011. As in previous years, the vast majority of strandings were calves of the season.[24] There are increasing sightings along Golfo San Jorge[25] and on Tierra del Fuego[26] in recent years.

In Uruguay, coastal areas such as Punta del Este host congregating sites for whales in breeding seasons, but not likely as calving grounds.[27] Their recovery helped create a whale-sanctuary off Latin America;[28] the creation of this protected area had been prevented for nearly a decade by pro-whaling nations such as Japan.

For the critically endangered Chile/Peru population, the Cetacean Conservation Center (CCC) has been working on a separate program for right whales. Aside from vagrants' records, Peru's coastlines possibly host the northernmost confirmed range of the species. The Alfaguara project may possibly target this species as well in the future. Forging grounds of this population is currently undetected, but possibly down south of Caleta Zorra to southern fiords. Some hope arising for establishment of new tourism industry in eastern side of the Strait of Magellan as the number of sightings increases. It is unknown whether these increases are due to re-colonisation by whales from the Patagonian population.

Oceania[edit]

Historically, populations in Oceanian regions had been very robust. There were stories of early settlers complaining that sounds of cavorting whales kept them awake at night in various locations such as on Wellington Bay and River Derwent. Satellite tracking conducted suggests that there are at least some interactions between populations in these two nations, but the extent thereof is unknown.

Australia[edit]

Southern Right Whales can be found in many parts of southern Australia, with the largest population to be found at the Head of the Bight in South Australia. Over 100[29] individuals are seen there annually from June to October. Visitors can view the whales from cliff top boardwalks and lookouts, with whales swimming almost directly below. The Head of the Bight is located in a sparsely populated area in the middle of the Nullabor. A more accessible location for viewing whales in South Australia is Encounter Bay where the whales can be seen just off the beaches of the Fleurieu Peninsula centred around the surfing town of Middleton, South Australia. A newer nursery ground has been established on Eyre Peninsula especially at Fowlers Bay as well. Numbers are much smaller at these locations compared to the Bight, with an average of a couple of whales per day. In recent years there have been regular sightings of more than ten whales at a time off Basham Beach.[30][31] A Whale Centre for information on the history of whaling and now whale watching in the area can be found at Victor Harbor. Whale numbers are scarcer in Victoria that the only established breeding ground where whales use each year had been at Warrnambool, but in very small numbers. However, the whales seem to be increasing and extending their wintering habitats into other areas, as the numbers of whales seen at Warrnambool do not show dramatic increases. The number of sightings occurring in other areas are showing slow but good increases. These are around Melbourne such as in Port Phillip Bay, at Ocean Grove, on Mornington Peninsula and in Apollo Bay. Tasmania is also a newer wintering ground showing dramatic increases in recent years. The waters off the Western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland coasts had been previously inhabited by whales. The historical range was much wider and was spread around the coast of the continent excluding the region along the Northern Territory), up to Exmouth and Shark Bay on the west coast and Hervey Bay and Moreton Bay on the east coast. The east coast population is still endangered and very small (in low-tens),[32] contributing in small numbers and limited re-colonization, but increases have been confirmed in many areas such as the vicinity to Sydney Harbor, Port Stephens, Twofold Bay, Jervis Bay, at Broulee,[33] Moruya River,[34][35] Narooma,[36] Byron Bay,[37] and so on.

Some whales can be seen around in sub-Antarctic regions such as Macquarie Island.[38] It is unknown whether historical oceanic habitats such as Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island would be re-colonised by Australian populations in the future.

New Zealand[edit]

Many features are still unknown about Right Whale populations in New Zealand waters. However, studies by the Department of Conservation and sightings reported by locals helped to deepen understanding. Scientists used to believe there was a very small, remnant population of southern right whales inhabiting New Zealand's main islands (North and South Island), containing probably 11 reproductive females.[39] In winter, whales migrate north to New Zealand waters and large concentrations occasionally visit the southern coasts of South Island. Bay areas along Foveaux Strait from Fiordland region to northern Otago are important breeding habitats for right whales, especially Preservation Inlet,[40] Te Waewae Bay,[41] and Otago Peninsula.[42][43] Calving activities are observed all around the nation, but with more regularity around North Island shores from the Taranaki coast in the west to Hawke's Bay, Bay of Plenty in the east, and areas in Hauraki Gulf such as Firth of Thames or Bay of Islands in the north. The population at the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands is showing a remarkable recovery while the recovery state in Campbell Islands is slower.[44] Other than a handful of confirmed observations, very little information are available for whether whales still migrating to historical oceanic habitats of Kermadec Islands[45] and Chatham Islands.[46]

Recent study revealed that the right whale populations from New Zealand's main islands and the sub-Antarctic islands interbreed, though it is still unknown whether the two stock originally came from a single population.[47]

Other[edit]

In oceanic islands and offshore waters other than the abovementioned areas, very little about the presence and recovery status of southern right whales is known. Due to illegal whaling by the Soviet Union, the recovery of the population off Tristan da Cunha[48] and adjacent areas such as Gough Island had been severely hindered, resulting in relatively few numbers of visiting animals.

Whaling[edit]

Sculpture of southern right whale at Cockle Creek on Recherche Bay, Tasmania, where bay whaling was performed extensively during the 1840s and 1850s.
Main article: History of whaling

By 1750 the North Atlantic right whale was as good as extinct for commercial purposes and the Yankee whalers moved into the South Atlantic before the end of the 18th century. The southernmost Brazilian whaling station was established in 1796, in Imbituba. Over the next one hundred years, Yankee whaling spread into the Southern and Pacific Oceans, where the American fleet was joined by fleets from several European nations.

The southern right whale had been coming to New Zealand waters in large numbers before the 19th century, but was extensively hunted from 1830-1850. Hunting gradually declined with the whale population and then all but ended in coastal New Zealand waters.[49] The beginning of the 20th century brought industrial whaling, and the catch grew rapidly. By 1937, according to whalers' records, 38,000 were captured in the South Atlantic, 39,000 in the South Pacific, and 1,300 in the Indian Ocean. Given the incompleteness of these records, the total take was somewhat higher.[50]

As it became clear that stocks were nearly depleted, right whaling was banned in 1937. The ban was largely successful, although some illegal whaling continued for several decades. Madeira took its last two right whales in 1968. Illegal whaling continued off the coast of Brazil for many years and the Imbituba station processed right whales until 1973. The Soviet Union admitted illegally taking over 3,300 during the 1950s and '60s,[51] although it only reported taking 4.[52]

Whales began to be seen again in Australian and New Zealand waters from the early 1960s.[49]

Conservation[edit]

The southern right whale, listed as "endangered" by CITES, is protected by all countries with known breeding populations (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and Uruguay). In Brazil, a federal Environmental Protection Area encompassing some 1,560 km2 (600 sq mi) and 130 km (81 mi) of coastline in Santa Catarina State was established in 2000 to protect the species' main breeding grounds in Brazil and promote regulated whale watching.[53]

The Southern right whale is listed on Appendix I[54] of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) as this species has been categorized as being in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant proportion of their range.

The Southern right whale is covered by the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region (Pacific Cetaceans MoU).[55]

Whale and gull off Península Valdés.

Gull attacks[edit]

One possibly significant contributor to the calf mortality rate has alarmed scientists – since at least 1996, kelp gulls off the coast of Patagonia have been observed attacking and feeding on live right whales.[56] The kelp gull uses its powerful beak to peck down several centimetres into the skin and blubber, often leaving the whales with large open sores – some of which have been observed to be half a meter in diameter. This predatory behavior, primarily targeted towards mother/calf pairs, has been continually documented in Argentinian waters, and continues today. Observers note that the whales are spending up to a third of their time and energy performing evasive maneuvers – therefore, mothers spend less time nursing, and the calves are thinner and weaker as a result. Researchers speculate that many years ago, waste from fish processing plants allowed the gull populations to soar. Their resulting overpopulation, combined with reduced waste output, caused the gulls to seek out this alternative food source.[57] Scientists fear that the gulls' learned behaviour could proliferate, and the IWC Scientific Committee has urged Brazil to consider taking immediate action if and when similar gull behaviour is observed in their waters. Such action may include the removal of attacking gulls, following Argentina's lead in attempting to reverse the trend.[24]

Whale watching[edit]

A southern right whale approaches close to whale watchers near Península Valdés in Patagonia.
See also: Whale watching

Africa[edit]

The southern right whale has made Hermanus, South Africa one of the world centers for whale watching. During the winter months (June to October), southern right whales come so close to the shoreline that visitors can watch them from the shore as well as from strategically placed hotels. Hermanus also has two boat–based whale watching operators. The town employs a "whale crier" (cf. town crier) to walk through the town announcing where whales have been seen. Southern right whales can also be watched at other winter breeding grounds. In False Bay whale-watching can be done from the shore or from the boats of licensed operators in Simon's Town. Plettenberg Bay along the Garden Route of South Africa is another mecca for whale watching not only for Southern Rights (July to December)but throughout the year. There are both land based and Ocean Safaris boat based Whale encounters on offer in this beautiful town. Southern right whales can also be seen off the coast of Port Elizabeth with marine eco tours running from the Port Elizabeth harbour, as some southern right whales make Algoa Bay their home for the winter months.

Whales are occasionally observed during tours in Namibia, Mozambique and Madagascar.

Latin America[edit]

In Brazil, Imbituba in Santa Catarina has been recognized as the National Right Whale Capital and holds annual Right Whale Week celebrations in September, when mothers and calves are more often seen. The old whaling station there is now a museum that documents the history of right whales in Brazil. In Argentina, Península Valdés in Patagonia hosts (in winter) the largest breeding population, with more than 2,000 catalogued by the Whale Conservation Institute and Ocean Alliance.[58] As in the south of Argentina, the whales come within 200 m (660 ft) of the main beach in the city of Puerto Madryn and form a part of the large ecotourism industry. Uruguay's Parliament on September 4, 2013, has become the first country in the world to make all of its territorial waters a safehaven for whales and dolphins. Every year, dozens of whales are sighted, especially in the departments of Maldonado and Rocha during the months of winter.[59] Swimming activities for commercial objectives had been banned in the area in 1985,[60] but is legalized in Gulf of San Matías where this is the only location in the world for tourists to be permissioned to swim with the species.[61]

Though their number is dangerously small, land-based sightings of whales are on increase in recent years off Chile and Peru, with some hope to create new tourism industries, especially in the strait of Magellan.

Oceania[edit]

In Australia's winter and spring, southern right whales can be seen from the Bunda Cliffs and Twin Rocks, both along the remote Great Australian Bight in South Australia.[4] In Warrnambool, Victoria, there exists a nursery which is popular with tourists in the winter and spring. Their normal range is extending as the species recovering and re-colonizing to other areas of continents, especially around coastal waters of New South Wales and Tasmania. In Tasmania, the first birth record since 19th century and several more following birth were recorded in River Derwent since after in 2010.

For same reason, southern rights may provide chances for public to observe whales from shore on New Zealand coasts with more regularity than in the past decades, especially in southern Fiordland, Southland to Otago coast,[62] and on North Island coast especially in Northland and some other locations such as Bay of Plenty and South Taranaki Bight. Births of calves could have always been occurred on main islands' coast, but firstly confirmed of two cow-calf pairs in 2012.[63][64]

Subantarctic[edit]

In the Subantarctic Islands and general vicinity to Antarctica,[65] where few regulations exist or are enforced, whales can be observed on expedition tours with increasing probabilities. The Auckland Islands are a specially designated sanctuary for right whales, where any kind of whale-watching tourism is prohibited without permission.[66]

See also[edit]

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

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  49. ^ a b Gaskin, D.E. (July 1964). "Return of the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis Desm.) to New Zealand Waters, 1963". Tuatara 12 (2): 115–118. Retrieved 22 July 2007. 
  50. ^ Tonnessen, J. N. and A. O. Johnsen (1982). The History of Modern Whaling. United Kingdom: C. Hurst & Co. ISBN 0-905838-23-8. 
  51. ^ Tormosov D.D., Mikhaliev Y.A., Best P.B., Zemsky V.A., Sekiguchi K., Brownell R.L. (November 1998). (abstract) "Soviet catches of southern right whales Eubalaena australis, 1951-1971. Biological data and conservation implications". Biological Conservation 86 (2): 185–197. doi:10.1016/S0006-3207(98)00008-1. Retrieved 22 July 2007. 
  52. ^ Reeves, Randall R., Brent S. Stewart, Phillip J. Clapham and James. A Powell (2002). National Audubon Society: Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. United States: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 0-375-41141-0. 
  53. ^ Petrobras, Projeto Baleia Franca. http://www.baleiafranca.org.br/ More information on Brazilian right whales is available in Portuguese
  54. ^ "Appendix I" of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). As amended by the Conference of the Parties in 1985, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2008. Effective: 5 March 2009.
  55. ^ Official webpage of the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region
  56. ^ Increased harassment of Right Whales (Eubalaena australis) by Kelp Gulls (Larus dominicanus) at Península Valdés, Argentina. Rowntree, V.J., P. MacGuiness, K. Marshall, R. Payne, J. Seger, and M. Sironi, 1998. Marine Mammal Science. 14(1): 99 - 115. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.1998.tb00693.x
  57. ^ Gulls' vicious attacks on whales. BBC News, 24 June 2009.
  58. ^ "Ocean Alliance". Retrieved May 2013. 
  59. ^ "Uruguay se convirtió en un santuario de ballenas y delfines". Ecología. Cromo.com.uy. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  60. ^ http://www.cethus.org/pdf/swim_or_dive_with_cetacean_in_latin_america_sc_55_ww9.pdf.
  61. ^ http://www.rufford.org/rsg/projects/els_vermeulen
  62. ^ http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/southern-right-whale-back-in-nz-waters-video-5395784
  63. ^ http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/news/7320397/First-known-NZ-whale-birth-since-end-of-hunting
  64. ^ http://www.3news.co.nz/Rare-whale-sighting-off-Auckland-coast/tabid/1160/articleID/266268/Default.aspx
  65. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnDVAMQ2lJQ
  66. ^ http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/marine-and-coastal/other-marine-protection/auckland-islands/
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