Southern Right Whale Fun Facts:
- Southern Rights are one of the biggest whales but they eat some of the smallest sea life.
- Southern Right Whales use their tails to do more than swim. When they lift their tail flukes into the wind, it cools their bodies and when they catch the wind with their tails, Southern Rights sail.
- Right Whales are among the slowest swimming whales.
- Southern Right Whales are about the size of a bus. They each weigh up to 80 tonnes and may reach 18 metres long.
Whales exhale air from the blowholes on top of their heads at great pressure, causing moisture in their breath to condense and create a cloud or "blow". Southern Rights have a distinctive V-shaped bushy blow and usually blow every minute or so after being submerged.
The eyes are set low down in Southern Right whales because their natural predators and hazards come from below. However, they can lift their head and eyes above the surface when they want to have a look around. This is called spy hopping.
When whales wish to dive deeply or quickly, they will drop their heads and lift their tails out of the water, then swim straight down.
Whales most spectacular activity is when they launch themselves up out of the water then twist and fall back down. This is called breaching, and it is believed they do this for several reasons ... to communicate, dislodge parasites, get a higher view, drive off predators or just play. Southern Rights usually only breach about three quarters of their bodies out of the water, but others such as Humpbacks can actually jump clear.
Tail flukes measure up to 5m across and weigh several tonnes. Whales will often lift them out of the water then back down hard with a loud crack and lots of spray. This is called tail lobbing, and is done for several reasons ... to communicate, drive off predators or just for fun.
A less strenuous way for whales to communicate, is where they lay on their side at the surface and slap the water with their pectoral fin.
Whales frequently lay upside down, rolling on the surface with their pectoral fins stuck out for balance. There are various reasons for this ... to simply rest or stretch; or, if a female, to avoid the demands of a hungry calf, or the advances of males during courtship.
Whales are able to suspend their tails above the water for quite long periods by dropping their heads and maintaining position with their pectoral fins. There are several reasons for this ... to just rest, study the area around and below it or catch the wind and actually sail along. Also, if a female, to avoid the demands of a hungry calf, or the advances of males during courtship.
(Thank you to the South Australian Whale Centre for the use of these drawings. Illustrations © SAWC)