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The Whales of Arniston

The following whales have been recorded in the region of Arniston:

  • Bryde's whale
  • Long-finned pilot whale
  • Minke whale
  • Pygmy right whale
  • Pygmy sperm whale
  • Southern right whale
  • True's beaked whale
A closer look at the Southern Right Whale

Southern Right whales were regarded by the whalers of the Nineteenth century as the 'right' whale to catch, because they were rich in body oil and baleen, and because they floated after they had been killed. Hence their common name.

Distribution

Southern Right whales are restricted in their distribution to the Southern Hemisphere. They spend the summer months in the sub-Antarctic waters where they feed on the large populations of copepods. It takes approximately a month for them to travel from their summer feeding grounds to their winter breeding grounds in south Australia, southern Africa and southern America.

The Southern Right whale can reach lengths of 15 to 18 metres, and can be up to 4 metres wide. Adult Southern Right whales can weigh between 50 and 80 tonnes, and can live to 40 years. They have no dorsal fin and have two blowholes which account for it's distinctive v-shaped blow. They are dark grey to black or brown above.

Whale Watching

Another distinguishing feature of the Southern Right whale is the crusty growths, known as callosities, which occur on the head. These are unique to each whale, and can be used as a means of identifying specific whales.

Conservation Status

Pre-whaling estimates of the Southern Right whale population indicate that there were approximately 100 000 individuals. As a result of whaling activities, these numbers have been drastically reduced. Present day levels stand at between 1500 and 4000 individuals - a mere fraction of the original population. Whales have been internationally protected by the International Whaling Convention of 1935. The Southern Right whale is classified as an Endangered species.

Peak whale watching times

Whales come to the Arniston coastline each year from April to January (peaking in September and October) to calve and mate. Individual whales may spend up to four months on the coast

To lure a whale ... safe breeding grounds

Courtship behaviour is accompanied with displays of breaching and tail slapping. After mating in deeper water, females have a gestation period of approximately 12 months. The calves are born in shallower waters, tail first. The female is often assisted by a 'midwife' female. Once born, the approximately 1 tonne calf is nudged to the surface to take it's first breath. The calf is fed milk by it's mother, gaining around 50 kg per day. During the mating and calving season, whales fast, living off the food reserves they have stored during the summer feeding months.