Rare white southern right whale calf born in Algoa Bay

White Southern Right Whale calf born in Algoa Bay by Raggy Charters.

After seeing calves of humpback, southern right and Bryde’s whales recently, it was great to observe a new-born white southern right calf with it’s mother in Addo’s Marine Protected Area, Algoa Bay. This is the fifth white calf they have recorded since I started Raggy Charters 25 years ago. The pair were observed in shallow water close inshore between Hougham Park and St Croix Island.

Early whalers in Algoa Bay referred to southern rights as “black whales” as this is their normal colour. While their backs are black, most animals have a white blaze on their belly around the naval. Variously sized white blazes are also found on the backs of 5% of adults of both sexes. Some animals also display grey markings on their backs which are irregular and chevron shaped, pointing towards the head. These markings are almost white at birth and difficult to distinguish from blazes, except that unlike blazes they darken with age. These marks are only present on females on about 10% of the population.

Around 3,5% of all southern right calves born are white, except for a black collar and black patterns just behind the head. According to Dr. Simon Elwin, “That rough skin on the baby is thought to play a role in initial thermoregulation (it’s a little thicker than normal skin) and appears to be shed within about a week of birth through a process known as ‘post-natal ecdysis’ “. Like the grey markings in the female, they gradually darken with age and become what is referred to as “brindled”. About 94% of these brindled animals are male. A female can only be brindled if she is the offspring of a brindled male and a female with grey markings. These markings have not been recorded in their Northern Hemisphere cousins, the northern right whales. Last year, Raggy Charters observed a “brindled” adult southern right whale in exactly the same place as they saw this calf. It is not unlikely that this whale is in fact the father of this new-born calf, as the gestation period is one year. Wouldn’t that just be a great coincidence for our beautiful Algoa Bay?