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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Southern Right Whale

The southern right whale reaches 50 ft in length, with females slightly larger than males. Instead of teeth, they possess 300 or more horny plates up to 6 ft in length suspended from the upper jaw where their bristlelike inner edges are used to filter small shrimplike animals from the sea. The plates, known as baleen or “whalebone”, were once in great demand for umbrella and corset ribs, upholstery packing, and other uses which raised the price to a peak of £2,000 per ton. Three whales could produce a ton of baleen which was therefore frequently much more valuable than the oil produced per whale, despite the very high oil production of this species. Southern right whales had regular seasonal migrations from sub-Antarctic waters, where they fed in summer, to a belt between 30°S and 45S where they came to breed in winter and spring. In this belt they occurred both on the high seas and close inshore where many females produced their calves. Hunting, therefore, occurred from vessels ranging considerable distances off shore, from others at bay anchorages, and also from a large number of open boats based on shore stations. Indiscriminate hunting included the slaughter of cows and calves and caused a rapid decline in the 20 years from 1830 to 1850 to very low numbers from which the stocks have not built up. Despite strict protection during most of this century, the southern right whale is still a very rare animal.

Next Part: Humpback Whale