Southern right whale: the good things

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Last name: Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis)

Band: Marine Mammal

Cut: Length: up to 18 meters long. Weight: about 80 tons.

Diet: Usually copepods, but known to eat krill and plankton.

Habitat/range: Migratory between Antarctic waters and generally the southern Australian coast from Perth, Western Australia to Tasmania and New South Wales.

Conservation state: Endangered

Superpower: Male right whales have the largest testicles in the animal kingdom – around 500 kg each (or one tonne per male).

Southern right whales, Sydney 2016. Credit: DrVPirottaMQ

With facial features (calluses) comparable to bunions and holding the record for the world’s largest testicles, it’s no surprise that the southern right whale is a leading contender for Australian Mammal of the Year. . Dive deep with me as we present the whale with the good stuff.

To better understand the southern right whale, think big! These whales are massive, air-breathing mammals – with hair (yes, whales have hair). Imagine a bus giving birth to a car, and you can grasp the extent of the reproductive prowess of these wondrous creatures. In addition to their size, they are super low in the water, with no dorsal fin. This makes them a sort of stealthy whale, making it difficult for researchers trying to tag them on a boat. Additionally, these animals are equipped with a built-in snorkel, aka nose, which is located on top of their head. Right whales are also famous for producing heart-shaped plumes of love when they breathe – isn’t that cool?

Every winter, Australia is treated to a show of grease at key nurseries and breeding grounds close to shore, as southern right whales give birth to their young and spend time together. Females are pregnant for 11 to 12 months and give birth to a single calf where they remain for a few months before making the return trip to Antarctic waters for the summer to feed.

And the guys? Well, male southern right whales don’t miss out on all the fun and have been known to hang out with females in groups. Sometimes, before mating with a female, a male will use his sperm to weed out the sperm of a previous mate to ensure his genes are passed on to the next offspring.

Southern right whale
Southern right whale. Credit: wildestanimal/Getty Images

Originally called “right whales” because of their high oil and blubber content, these whales were nearly hunted to extinction. They remain an endangered species in Australian waters. Fortunately, like all whales in Australian waters, they are now protected, but remain vulnerable to many human and natural threats.

Unlike humpback whale populations in Australian waters, their recovery remains slow. One of the reasons is due to a slower breeding interval between calves, which is every three to five years. Scientists continue to closely monitor their recovery and have established citizen science programs to identify individual whales based on their facial/head callus arrangements, which are unique to each whale.

The verdict? These giant, fat, lovable, bus-sized sea mammals should have you won over by now. If the giant testicles didn’t convince you, then the Southern Right Whale is surely the “right” choice for your vote.


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