It was the Southern Right whales that put Witsand on the map, especially in the 90’s, because San Sebastian Bay is considered the “Whale Nursery” of South Africa. In spring, calving Southern Right whales cruise up and down the coastline, close to shore. Each year these majestic mammals come to our shores between June and November to mate and calf. Witsand enjoys the lion’s share of this visit due to the bay being the prime nursery for cow/calf pairs.
Scientific name : Eubalaena australis from eu (Greek for right), balaena (Latin for whale) and australis (Latin for southern).
Size : Calves vary in length at birth from 4.5 to over 7m (average 6.1m). Bigger females have bigger calves. Adult females range from 12.4 to 15.5m with an average of 13.9m; weights unknown, but using information for northern right whales suggests 29-58 tons (average 41 tons). Adult males probably follow the pattern of most baleen whales in being a little smaller.
Life span : Probably long-lived, with an average life expectancy of about 50 years; some individuals may live much longer.
Length of pregnancy : A year or slightly longer.
Length of nursing : Six months to a year. The calf suckles from a pair of teats situated either side of the genital aperture.
Colour : Characteristically black except for pale brownish "callosities" on the head. Most individuals have some white on the belly, and some have white spots or brownish-grey streaks on the back. A rare colour form (present in 4% of the population) is born mostly white apart from black spots especially in the neck region; these animals darken with age and become a brindle colour when adult.
Callosities : Patches of raised, roughened skin scattered over head and pale brown in colour. Locations correspond to positions of rudimentary hairs. Much variation in size and shape (and sometimes position); the most prominent (at the tip of the snout) is called the "bonnet". Characteristic of right whales.
Flukes and flippers : Tail flukes are made of connective tissue, 4.3-5.7 m wide in adults. Flippers are supported by a skeleton derived from the forelimb of land mammals, and are squarish in outline. There is no dorsal fin.
Swimming and diving : Cruising speed 0.5-4km/hr (0.25-2.2 knots). Top speed possibly 14km/hr (9 knots). In coastal waters most dives less than 4 minutes and up to 8 minutes in duration; in open ocean dives may last longer, as northern right whales recorded diving to about 300 m depth.
Vocalisations : Right whales in coastal waters produce a variety of low frequency (less than 1.000 Hz) sounds, that can be described as moans, growls, pulses and belch-like noises. These are used for communication, some being produced mainly by resting or swimming whales and others by whales actively interacting.