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37 Victory Way, Simon's Kloof, Simon's Town 7975
Whale watching
Whale watching at Albatross House

The False Bay Whales
Several species of whale come into False Bay and can be seen in the vicinity of Simon's Town. These include Bryde's Whale, the Humpback Whale (which is the one that 'Sings') and the Killer Whale, more commonly known as the Orca. By for the most common, however, is the Southern Right Whale, which visits us from June to December.

Southern Right Whales
Scientific Name and Statistics
Scientific Name: Eubalaena Australis [eu = Greek, right;
balaena = Latin, whale; australis = Latin, south]

Family: Balaenidae
Statistics: Adult females, larger than the males, are on average 15 meters long and weigh about 40-45 tons, while the males are a little smaller at 14 meters.

The term "right" whale refers to the fact that in the nineteenth century these whales were regarded as the "right" whales to catch, because they were particularly rich in oil. Being slow swimmers they were easy to catch, and because their carcasses were easy to handle as they floated when dead. It is usually considered that there are two species of "right" whales, one in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the Southern Hemisphere.

Southern Right whales are baleen whales. This mean that they have about 200 to 270 pairs of fine 'plates' which hang down from the upper jaw like vertical venetian blinds, through which they filter their food [see under Diet]. These plates may be up to 3 meters (9.5 feet) long.

The most striking feature of the Southern Right whales are the 'callosities' (horny growths) behind the blowholes, and on the face. These provide homes for several other creatures, including the 'whale lice' or cyamids, which live on the callosities and operate in a symbiotic relationship with the whales, feeding off the dead skin. Barnacles called Tubercinella Major, burrow 4 cm down into the skin. The other characteristic, which distinguishes the Southern Right whales, is their V-shaped blows. Southern-Right whales are black or dark grey in colour. They have no dorsal fin. They have large, bow-shaped heads and arched mouths. Unusually, Southern Right whales are relatively hairy with up to 300 hairs on the tip of the lower jaw and about 100 on the upper jaw.

Southern Right whales can remain under water for about 6 minutes and swim fairly slowly at an average speed of 6 kilometers and hour when cruising, although than can reach 11 kilometers-an-hour in short-bursts.

Although the humpback whales are the best "singers", Southern Rights do produce low frequency sounds to communicate with one another.

The life span of the Southern Right whale is not established, but it is believed that they can live for over 50 years.

Southern Right Whale

Range & Habitat
The Southern Right Whale lives between latitudes 20 ° to 55 °, occasionally venturing down to 63 °. Although it is to be found throughout the southern oceans, in our part of the world it returns annually to the sheltered bays of the Southern African coast in order to breed and give birth. In False Bay it can be seen between June and December. It is most prolific close to the shore from about September, and it is occasionally seen out of season, as early as May or as late as January. During the summer months the Southern Right whales move south to the cold and stormy waters of the Antarctic where it feeds.

As baleen whales, right whales swim with their mouths open so that the baleen plates can filter out the water and retain the krill, which forms a large part of their diet. They eat up to 11 tons a day of these tiny creatures. They are seasonal feeders, eating in winter and living off their blubber in the breeding months in the north.

One female, Southern Right whale will mate with a number of males at the same time, with sometimes as many as eight competing for her favour. The male producing the most sperm is probably the father of her baby. Females usually have one calf every three years. The gestation period (pregnancy) of the Southern Right whale is twelve months, she bears her calf in the spring in the warmer waters of Southern African bays. Usually only one calf is born although twins sometimes occur. About 3% of calves are born white, but this usually becomes grey after a few months. The calf is born tail first and immediately swims to the surface of the water to take its first breath. Initially the mother helps it but within thirty minutes of birth it can swim. The newborn calf is about 4.5 to 5 meters long. The calf suckles from a pair of teats, sometimes consuming 600 liters of milk a day and growing 2.8 cm a day. It is weaned after about 6-8 months by which time it has reached about 9 meters in length.

Southern Right whales are regarded as an endangered species as their numbers have been considerably reduced in the last 200 years. Between 1790 and 1825 it is estimated that over 12 000 Southern Rights were killed by whalers of the South African coast. Now collisions with ships or entanglement in fishing gear are the main dangers. There are now about 4500 Southern Right whales, with about 1500 coming to Southern Africa. However, Southern Rights are not as vulnerable as the Northern Rights, which are believed to be close to extinction, since they live in more hazardous waters. Moreover, Southern Rights are increasing in number, doubling in size every ten years, which means that they should have returned to their optimum population size in about 2040.

In 1980 and again in 1984 legislation was introduced in South Africa to protect whales. It is now illegal to shoot at whales, or harass them by coming closer than 300 meters in any craft.

Things To Do from Albatross House

Historical Simon's Town

Cape Point National Park

Southern Right Whale

Just Nuisance

Our Penguins

Albatross House
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