SOUTHERN RIGHT WHALES: Interesting facts about whales that visit Walker Bay

  1. Why do Southern Rights calve here in Walker Bay?  As is the case for the Southern Cape Coast, the Walker Bay waters are warm enough to sustain the new-born whale calves.
  2. Although research is not certain about the longevity of Southern Rights the estimation is that they can live to be 100 years old.
  3. In general, a new-born whale calf is a quarter of its mother’s length and 3 to 4% of her weight.
  4. During their annual migration whales feed in higher latitudes sub Antarctic and breed in lower latitudes such as Walker Bay.
  5. They are capital breeders like penguins – feeding one time of year, breed another time of year.
  6. Peter Best initiated the Southern Right Whale (SRW) monitoring in South Africa in 1969, while working at the Department of Fisheries. He found the Whale Unit in 1985 when he started working at the University of Pretoria. The database of SRW monitoring accompanied him. This precious database is older than Whale Unit and one of the oldest/longest whale datasets in the world.
  7. South African aerial Southern Right Whale surveys are done once a year flying in a westerly direction mimicking the whales’ route.  This survey has an id catalogue of 2322 whales.
  8. Breeding intervals:  Used to be every 3 years now every 4 to 5 years
  9.  Growth curve for the Southern Right Whale population is set at 6,3% per year.
  10. Southern Right Whales visits the Cape South Coast from June till end November mostly.
  11. Question:  If the migration is not complete where do the whales go?  We simply don’t know!
  12. The plume of mist whales released when they breathe is not seawater, it is simply hot breath that condenses when exhaled into colder environment. 
  13. Tail slapping could be amongst other things a sign of aggression when done by female whales and a sign of showing off if done by males.
  14. What do whales eat?  Krill – small crustaceans.
  15. Whales are considered the “ecosystem engineers” of the ocean because they help to keep life at sea healthy by redistributing nutrients across the oceans.
  16. Southern right whales are mostly black in colour and were referred to as “black whales” by open-boat whalers. Most have a white blaze on their bellies, which can vary in size from a small spot to a large irregularly shaped marking that may extend up the side of the animal and sometimes even up onto the back.
  17. There is also a “brindle” pigmentation pattern. Brindle calves are born almost completely white, with a speckled black collar around their necks and a variable amount of black spotting across their backs. 94% of all brindle whales are male. 
  18. Want to adopt a whale?  Go to 

I learnt most of the facts above while attending a talk by Dr Els Vermeulen of the Mammal Research Institute linked to the University of Pretoria. She spoke at the NSRI’s brand new building in Hermanus New Harbour during a Welcome Whales Celebration held at the start of June 2021.