National Geograhic photographer swimming with Southern Right Whale

Habitat and Geography

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has identified four categories of Southern Right Whale Habitats. (www.

The first is the feeding habitat; Southern Right Whales are skim feeders. This habitat usually occurs at higher latitudes in deeper waters since cold water is the ideal environment for numerous amounts of plankton and is visited by the whale seasonally because they are filled with copepod and krill.  Southern Right Whales feed on both euphausids and copepods (Mathews 1938). Although they target slower moving copepods rather than euphausids.

The second is the Calving Habitat; this habitat is where the Right Whales use for calving and nursing their young. Calving grounds have been observed from early on, have indicated that there is a preference for water depth of less than 5 meters. (Payne 1986)

The third is the Nursery Habitat; is the area where nursing females feed and suckle.

The fourth is the Breeding Habitat; this habitat is where mating occurs. Southern Right Whales exhibit a strong tendency to return to the same breeding grounds year after year.

The Calving, Nursing and Winter Breeding Habitats occur in lower latitudes, in shallower and warmer waters, while their spring to fall feeding grounds are in higher latitudes.

The International Whaling Commission has identified the following locations as Eubalaena australis feeding grounds:

Brazil, False Banks, and Falkland Islands (30-50 degrees south); South Georgia and Shag Rocks (53 degrees south); Tristan de Cunha (40 degrees south); South of 50 degrees south; and Antarctic Peninsula (60-70 degrees south) Feeding occurs primarily in summer, but also extends in to spring and fall.

Unlike the uncertain feeding grounds, the breeding grounds of the Eubalaena australis are known with greater certainty. There are four major areas.
1.    South Africa; Right Whales are found mainly along the Cape coast.
2.    Argentina; the whales are found along Peninsula Valdez.
3.    Australia; they are found along the southern coasts of Western Australia along with  bioluminescent plankton species, usually mid-May and mid-November.
4.     Sub-Antarctic New Zealand; the whales are found off the Auckland and Campbell Islands.

Global distribution of Southern Right Whale from Nature Picture Library

Southern Right Whales have also been found near New Zealand, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Namibia, and Madagascar, but little has been researched on these whales since their populations are tremendously smaller and have had few siting’s. Migration is not very extensive for Southern Right Whales. (Dawbin 1966)

During migration and in higher latitudes adults, but mainly calves are vulnerable to Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) (Bannister 1996) and shark attacks are only part of the mortality of calves and sick adults, while healthy adults are rarely vulnerable.


Click here to continue onto our Form and Function page or go back to our Home page!