Southern right whales have huge callosities (growths) on their heads which makes them easy to identify. Whale lice (cyamid crustaceans) live on the callosities and this is what makes them appear white, pink, yellow or orange. Southern right whales have more callosities on their lower "lip" and less on their head than northern right whales, and though there are other differences, the two species are almost identical. The largest growth is called the "bonnet" and is on the tip of the rostrum (upper jaw of the skull). Southern right whales have broad backs with no fin, a large head with an arched mouthline and large, broad flippers. The flukes have broad, smooth and concave trailing edges with a deep notch in the middle. Their skin is black/brown and they have white patches on their bellies. Their baleen is up to 2.8m long and is dark brown , grey or black. It can appear yellow when underwater and is lighter coloured in younger animals. There are usually 220 to 260 long narrow plates with fringes of bristles in each side of the upper jaw. Southern right whales have two blowholes and when they blow it is wide and V-shaped and up to 5m high.
New-born calves are between 4.5 and 6 metres (14ft 9in - 19ft 9in) in length. Adults can be between 11 and 18 metres (36-59ft) long.
At birth, the southern right whale weighs about 1 tonne. Adults weigh between 30 and 80 tonnes.
Krill and/or other crustaceans
Southern right whales are slow swimmers but are often seen partaking in acrobatic activities! They wave their flippers above the surface, breach (up to 10 times in a row), flipper-slap and lobtail. Southern right whales also tip themselves upside-down vertically and wave their flukes in the air. 'Sailing' is another popular activity, which involves using the flukes to sail in the wind! They sometimes swim near the surface with their mouths open, displaying their baleen. Southern right whales live in small groups of up to 12 individuals. They are more commonly found in groups of 2 or 3, though they may gather in larger groups at feeding grounds. When they are in a small group, they will often take it in turns to come to the surface. They are also known to bellow and moan when visiting breeding grounds.
Southern right whales live only in the Southern Hemisphere and never mix with northern right whales. They are circumpolar (i.e. found around the globe) mainly between 20°S and 55°S. They mate and calve during the winter in the inshore waters of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, southern Australia and some Southern Hemisphere islands, then migrate to waters nearer Antarctica to feed during the summer months.
The whaling industry decimated the right whale population and their population size is now vulnerable (IUCN '96)
Habitat loss, Human disturbance, Entanglement in fishing gear