A southern right whale's head measures one third of its total length. It is one of the easiest whales to identify as the enormous head is also covered in white-coloured outgrowths of tough skin. These callosities form a unique pattern on each whale, like fingerprints in humans. Courtship and mating is both tender and graceful, without any animosity between males mating with the same female. Females calve once every three years, giving birth to a weighty 1,500kg calf. Despite their great size, the young are brought up on a diet of high-fat milk and remain in shallow waters, safe from the likes of orcas and great white sharks. Southern right whales are only found in the oceans of the southern hemisphere. They inhabit waters close to Antarctica during the summer and migrate northwards to coastal areas in winter.
Scientific name: Eubalaena australis
The following habitats are found across the Southern right whale distribution range. Find out more about these environments, what it takes to live there and what else inhabits them.
Discover what these behaviours are and how different plants and animals use them.
Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web
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. 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) and can weigh up to 47 tonnes (46 long tons; 52 short tons). 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. 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.
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