Southern Right Whales: Patagonia

The southern right whale returns every year to the waters of Peninsula Valdes to raise their calves.

Planet Doc

In the middle of the year, a new sound can be heard in the sea. The southern right whale has returned to the Valdés Peninsula.
Every year, some 600 individuals of this species come to the calm waters of the San José and Nuevo Gulfs. Like the sea lions and elephant seals, the whales are mammals which have adapted to marine life, but they have gone one step further down this evolutionary path. Their extremities bear no reminder of their former life on land, and their enormous weight means they are unable to leave the sea. Nor do they need to, because the whales, unlike the sea lions and elephant seals, reproduce in the water.
Despite the richness of these cloudy waters, the whales do not come to the Valdés Peninsula to feed. In fact, during their stay here they fast, living on the fat reserves they have accumulated during their time out in the open ocean. But the waters of the peninsula continue to be their chosen destination for two fundamental reasons: this is where they mate and give birth. 

There was a time when this image was on the verge of disappearing.
The slowness of the right whale, the fact it floats when dead, and the enormous quantities of fat on their bodies, made them a prized target for the whale hunters. The Valdés Peninsula was no longer a safe haven, and little by little the whales stopped coming here. Even after they were declared a protected species, it was years before these cetaceans returned to their old sanctuary to once more breed here. Today, over fifty years after the ban on hunting, the coast is again a place where both adults and young can peacefully swim in safe waters. 
Mother and child remain together for a year, which is how long breast feeding lasts. This dependency, and the long pregnancy, means they can only reproduce every 3 years, and so recovering the population is a slow process. 

From when they are young, the right whales develop calluses on their heads, which distinguish them from other cetaceans. These calluses are colonised by enormous numbers of small, whitish, parasitic crustaceans, and to free themselves of these, the whales employ a truly spectacular method. 
According to some zoologists, these impressive leaps serve to get rid of the parasites, though others believe they do it simply for fun. Whatever the purpose, it is a spectacular demonstration of their incredible power, capable of lifting these monsters right out of the water. At birth, these whales measure five metres in length, and can weigh over two thousand kilos. And that is just the start – during the first two months of their lives, they grow three and a half centimetres a day, a record in the animal kingdom. 
During these first stages of growth the mother is extremely attentive to her child, even helping it to breathe, by swimming beneath it and lifting it up to the surface.

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 - KARTENN - Puerto Pirámides, Península Valdés (Argentina)

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