The thrill of seeing southern right whales steaming through the ocean during their seasonal migration never fails to impress. They are a captivating sight off the Australian coast from about mid-May to mid-November, sometimes with calves in tow.

The southern right whale is a wonder to behold. These elusive marine mammals grow up to 17m long and can weigh a staggering 100,000kg. Their dark bodies are stocky in shape and covered in white/grey growths known as callosities. The arrangement of callosities around their eyes, top lip and lower jaw are unique to each whale, like fingerprints are to humans. Southern right whales can be found in the southern hemisphere, from South Africa to Australia. These gentle giants migrate between Antarctic feeding grounds and warm calving grounds closer to the equator. They can be spotted off Australia’s southern coasts in the winter months during their breeding season. If you’re lucky, you might spot mothers teaching their newborn calves how to communicate by breaching and slapping their tails on the ocean surface. Like all baleen whales, southern right whales have two blowholes to make breathing easier. Their jaws curve high, allowing some 250 baleen plates to hang out of their mouths like a giant curtain. The plates are two metres long and trap up to two thousand kilograms of krill and other small crustaceans every day. Sadly, southern right whales are classified as Endangered in Australia under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. WWF-Australia is working to protect all whales and their precious ocean homes, and you can help make a difference.


Species bio

Common Name

Southern right whale

Scientific Name

Eubalaena australis


Length: 14-17m

Weight: 100,000kg

Population: around 5,000 (Australian population)

Distribution: Southern hemisphere, seasonally occurring in coastal water of all Australian states with the exception of the Northern Territory.


Listed as Endangered (under EPBC Act)

Why it matters

In the nineteenth century, whaling drastically reduced the number of southern right whales in Australian waters. An estimated 55,000 - 70,000 southern right whales thrived in the southern hemisphere in the late 1700s, but this number dwindled to fewer than 300 individuals by the 1920s.

Targeted for their abundant oil and baleen content, southern right whales were named because whalers decided they were the ‘right’ whales to hunt as they moved slowly. ‘Right’ whale populations across all three major ocean systems, including the Critically Endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and the North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica), were healthy for millions of years before human exploitation pushed them to the brink of extinction.

Protection efforts have led to a slight recovery, but sadly, the Australian population of southern right whales still stands at only an estimated 5,000 individuals. 

Like all whales, southern right whales play an essential role in maintaining the health of our oceans and planet. They face becoming Critically Endangered, and we need to take action to protect them before it's too late.

A mother and calf Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis) roll on their backs in a shletered bay.
© Peter Chadwick / WWF

Whale wonders: Did you know southern right whales get mistaken for their cousin, the humpback?

Southern right and humpback whales are some of the most commonly spotted whale species in Australian waters. While they may appear similar, there are some telltale signs that set them apart. Humpback whales have large, elongated bodies with distinct dorsal fins and a rounded head. In contrast, southern right whales are more stocky and lack dorsal fins. They also have one of the most prominent heads of all whale species, measuring up to one-third of their body length! Remember these facts next time you’re whale watching to spot the different species. Discover more interesting whale facts in this blog.


Marine pollution

Marine pollution is affecting our oceans in many forms. Chemicals, plastics, underwater noise and oil and gas spills pose significant threats to whales, their prey and their ocean home. Southern right whales are threatened by noise pollution as they use vocalisations to find potential mates and prey. Man-made noises like the hum from ship engines can mask or mimic these vocalisations, throwing whales off-course and disrupting their migration and breeding patterns.


As many as 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises are killed globally every year from entanglement in fishing gear. This is why it is so important we build networks of Marine Protected Areas along Australia’s coasts to ensure safe passage for whales and all marine life.

Growing ship traffic

Ship traffic poses a massive threat to whales. Ever-expanding ship traffic is leading to increased noise pollution, as well as a growing number of collisions between boats and whales, often resulting in severe or fatal injuries. Keeping ships out of whale superhighways is essential to protecting whales for years to come.

What we're doing to help southern right whales

Southern right whales blowing
Southern right whales blowing © Michel Gunther/ WWF

Securing critical ocean habitat for whales

Southern right whales face a growing number of threats from human interference. Ship strikes, chemical and noise pollution, bycatch and climate change all pose a significant threat, and sadly, southern right whales are Endangered as a result. 

We need to take action now to remove these threats and protect whales. WWF-Australia is working with our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region to support efforts to protect 30% of our shared oceans by 2030, and we’re working to unite key southern hemisphere countries to protect 100 million hectares of ocean.


Protecting whale ‘superhighways’

Whales migrate around the world every year following specific routes known as whale superhighways or ‘blue corridors’. WWF-Australia is working with partners to map these migratory routes and the potential threats that whales may face along them. Our goal is to connect networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to ensure safe passage for southern right whales and all marine animals.

Read more
Southern right whale and calf. Logans Beach, Warrnambool
© Chris Farrell Nature Photography / WWF-Aus

Securing a healthy climate for – and with – whales.

Australia can become a global leader in securing a healthy and resilient net-zero world. WWF-Australia supports the transition to renewable energy and Nature-based solutions and integrates the vital ecological role of whales into environmental policies.

What you can do to help

  • Increase your impact and donate to help keep whales safe on their long ocean journeys.
  • Learn more about whales and why we need to protect them.
  • Responsible whale-watching. Whale-watching is one of the fastest growing nature-based tourism activities in the world. Choose a responsible whale-watching company that abides by local and national laws.