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Enjoy and watch the WHALES and DOLPHINS from your balcony at Roman Rock, Simonstown, False Bay, Cape Town

Watch the whales from your balcony at Roman Rock

Source: Dave Hurwitz (

Southern Right Whale

Where and when to find them

The very best time to see southern right whales is between June and November, when they make their annual 2000+ km journey from their cold Antarctic feeding grounds to calve and mate in the warmer coastline of South Africa. The southern right makes use of extreme coastal waters along the southern and south-eastern coastal region of the Cape, and sometimes as far north as southern KwaZulu-Natal.

Distinguishing characteristics

The southern right whale is the most commonly seen whale along the South African coast. It is a robust baleen whale that grows to between 15 and 17 metres in length and weighs between 50 and 65 tons. It is mostly dark in colour with a white patch on the belly and lightly coloured callosities (described below) on the head, although about 4% of babies are born white and darken to a bridle colour as they age. The southern right whale has no dorsal fin, has a V-shaped blow, square-ish pectoral fins and a smooth, dark tail. It is well known for its extraordinary displays of breaching, flipper slapping and tail slapping which may carry on for minutes or hours.


Females that have given birth this year will nurse their young for six months to a year, they'll rest and recuperate for a year, and then they'll return to our coast about the third year to mate (apparently). Unlike the trusting albatross, southern right whales don't mate for life. They don't even mate for a season. They are promiscuous animals. Eligible females may be pursued by a number of males, as many as 6 or 7 males to 1 female. Mating is brief but frequent and most, if not all, of the males in the group will mate with the female. Each of the pursuing males is attempting to sire the females next calf, but there is a great deal of competition. Right whales don't have teeth or horns or claws to prevent the other males from mating with the female, so they have developed an interesting way to compete called "sperm competition". Each male produces massive amounts of sperm in an attempt to dilute other sperm that might already be in the female. To do this, the whales need the appropriate plumbing, which explains why one southern right whale testicle weighs in at about 500 kg. These organs are internal.

Baleen and food

Right and bowhead whales generally eat the smallest planktonic crustaceans, called copepods as well as krill. The southern right whale is a skimmer, which means that it ploughs through the water (often at the surface) with its mouths open, filtering and sifting the concentrated swarms of plankton. Southern right have 225 to 250 pairs of long (2 metres in length and 30 cm in width) baleen plates and, naturally, the greatest exaggeration of the head which houses them. The head of the southern right is triangular and highly arched with a huge scoop-like lower jaw to accommodate the excessively large baleen. For an update on where whales have been sighted recently, or if you would like to report a sighting, contact the toll-free MTN Whale Hotline on 0800-22-8222.

Mothers and calves

The gestation period for southern right whales is around 11 or 12 months, after which the female gives birth to a calf of about 6 metres long. The peak calving season along our coast is in August. The new calf will suckle on about 600 litres of rich milk per day, which it gets from one of its mother's two nipples. The baby will grow about 3 cm in length per day while it remains along our coast and will suckle for 6 months to one year and about 8.5 metres in length. Mothers appear to fast for the few months while they are along our coast, relying on the fat or blubber that she stored while in the Antarctic a few months before. This blubber has to meet her nutritional needs as well as the calf's until they return to their feeding grounds.

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