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Head of Bight
A good time
Southern Right Whales
Some Weighty Matters
The Southern Right Whale is a truly gargantuan creature of the seas. Frequently female Southern Right Whales weigh in at 85 tonnes when mature. Adult males are relative light weights at 55 tonnes or so. Typically adult female Right Whales grow to 17.5 metres in length - with males growing perhaps 2 metres less than females. In common with other mammals, including land based ones such as ourselves, Southern Right Whales possess lungs, breathe air, are warm blooded creatures, and even possess remnants of body hair.
There's Nothing Quite Like Mother's Milk
Like other mammal species, the female Southern Right Whale is also endowed with milk glands for suckling their young whale calves. At birth Right Whale calves are delivered tail first, weigh about 1 tonne and are 5.5 metres in length. During the 3 to 4 months after birth young whale calves grow to 7 or 8 metres in length and gain on average 50 to 60 kilograms in weight every day. These are stunning figures indeed, and by the time the young whale calves depart for their summer Sub-Antarctic feeding grounds they typically weigh between 6 and 8 tonnes. Southern Right Whale milk contains upto 40% fat and this no doubt contributes to rapid growth rates of young whales. Rapid growth rates of 50 to 60 kilograms per day are all the more remarkable however, when you consider that Right Whale mothers fast for the 4 to 6 months they are resident in their breeding and nursery grounds. At The Head of Bight this is between May and October of each year - during the Southern Hemisphere's winter and early spring. This extended period without access to its usual food sources of copepods and plankton is no doubt assisted by the fact that Right Whale Blubber can be upto 40 centimetres in depth. Clearly nursing and raising Southern Right Whale calves involves a very high expenditure of energy. It therefore seems a likely evolutionary imperative for female Right Whales to possess a much greater body mass than their male counterparts. Not surprisingly female Southern Right Whales tend to breed only every three years or so, generally wintering in their Sub-Antarctic feeding grounds during the off breeding cycle.
Southern Right Whale mother and calf feeding
What Is A Baleen Whale?
Scientists classify Southern Right Whales as belonging to the Baleen family of Whales - otherwise known as the Mysticete sub-order of Cetacea. Members of the Baleen family of whales possess no teeth whatsovever. Instead, nature has endowed Right Whales and allied species with what are known as Baleen Plates. These Baleen plates are structures that are found in the mouth and are used as a means to filter food sources such as copepods from sea water. The Southern Right Whale's Baleen consists of a series of 230 pairs of elongated triangular plates suspended from each side of the whale's upper jaw. These triangular plates have been measured at over 2.5 metres long and are composed of a material called chitin - a material which is very similar to human finger nails. Within the Southern Right Whale's mouth the internal surfaces of these baleen plates form a frayed and dense sieve like matting through which the Right Whale filters its prey.
Right Whales Are Skim Feeders
Southern Right Whales are considered "Skim Feeders" - a term which refers to the fact that this whale searches for its food by swimming through clouds of teeming plankton located at or very near to the ocean surface. When feeding Southern Right Whales swim with their mouths agape thereby allowing water to circulate through the Baleen structure which acts to trap small copepods and a variety of phytoplankton and zooplankton species. With its muscular tongue the Southern Right Whale swishes through the baleen and flicks trapped prey to the back of its mouth where it is immediately swallowed - usually one kilogram at a time.
Over the course of a day an adult Southern Right Whale can consume upto a tonne or more of protein rich food sources. Jenny Craig Weight Loss Centres eat your heart out!
Today the world's Southern Right Whale population numbers 4000 of which perhaps 600 to 800 regularly winter along the Southern Australian coastline. At the Head of The Great Australian Bight upto 100 Southern Right Whales converge each year to breed, give birth and nurture young whale calves. Breeding numbers appear to peak at 3 year intervals and are closely related to the breeding cycles of sexually mature females.
Scientists have been observing the movement of Southern Right Whales along the Southern Australia coastline for many years. Results of these migration studies suggest Southern Right Whales tend to return to the same breeding grounds over the course of many years, and in many cases perhaps even throughout their entire lives.
Along the Southern Australian coastline other well documented breeding grounds and whale nurseries include the Warrnambool coastline of Victoria, and to a lesser extent the waters located between Albany and Hopetown in Western Australia. Very occasionally Southern Right Whales have been observed to move between the Head of Bight and Western Australian Breeding grounds. Slightly more frequently movements have been observed between the Head of Bight and Warrnambool breeding grounds - a distance of over 1000 kilometres!
To date there have been no recorded movements between Western Australian nursery grounds and those located in South Eastern Australia in places such as Warrnambool.
High Wave Energy Coastlines
Southern Right Whales appear to exhibit a definite preference for breeding and nursery grounds that are exposed to strong southerly high energy swells. Both the Head of Bight and Warrnambool sites experience high energy waves in an environment where steep cliffs and deep waters are adjacent to nearby whale calving grounds.
An advantage of frequenting such high energy coastlines is that these habitats possess high levels of naturally occurring background sound - a feature which characteristically makes it difficult for acoustically sensitive predators such as Killer Whales to detect the presence of vulnerable Southern Right Whales.
Nearby deep waters also appear to play a role in developing swimming skills and the stamina necessary for young whales that will soon undergo an oceanic voyage to their Sub-Antarctic feeding grounds. A distance of perhaps 4 to 5000 kilometres to the south of the Australian continent.
The Bunda Cliffs are a high energy coastline
A Politically Correct View of Whales
Today the Southern Right Whale continues to remain an endangered species despite receiving international protection from commercial whalers since 1935. From a peak population of 100,000 Southern Right Whales in the early 1800s, numbers have now stabilised, and may even be marginally increasing from a low base of 4000 creatures. Between 1820 and 1850 some 26,000 whales were mercilessly slaughtered in Australian and New Zealand waters. And all this mayhem was in order to satisfy man's demand for lamp oil, brushes, candles, and perhaps most insidiously of all, to satisfy the demands of fashion for women's corsets.
Whilst the plight of the magnificent Southern Right Whale may have stabilised, many other whale species are even more acutely threatened. Surprisingly there are nations in the world that still sponsor the commercial exploitation of whales as a food source. Today the nations of Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands continue to hunt whales.
Perhaps the worst culprit of all is Japan which spuriously maintains its need to hunt Minke Whales and other species in order to conduct scientific studies. In fact nothing could be further from the truth and whale meat continues to be sold as a luxury item and delicacy in expensive Tokyo restaurants.
Nullarbor Net asks you to actively oppose such commercial whaling operations by lobbying any government that continues to condone the killing of whales.
For those of you who are not sure where to start why not visit the whale page of Greenpeace's internet site. The address of this site is www.greenpeace.org and here you will see Greenpeace is currently running an Email campaign gainst Japanese and Norwegian Whalers. Why not Email the Prime Minister of Norway? Before the last American presidential election Greenpeace was also active in lobbying Bill Clinton with view to ending all commercial whaling. At Nullarbor Net our message is quite simple - Whales definitely thrive best when left to their own devices.
Whales in the water, not on dinner plates!
Weird Whale Facts