Aerial photogrammetry of southern right whales, Eubalaena australis



Between July or August and November 1988 and 1989, 72 cow-calf pairs of right whales (Eubalaena australis) were measured photogrammetrically from the air off De Hoop, South Africa. Median coefficients of variation ranged from 1.29 to 4.56%, being lowest in cows and calves for measurements of total length. Fifty-seven adult cows measured from 12.37 to 15.54 m in length, with females photographed for the first time with a calf (= primiparous) being smaller than females that had been seen for the first time with a calf at least five years previously. The lengths of 72 calves ranged from 4.53 to 9.24 m, with those from primiparous females being significantly smaller than calves of multiparous females in every month except July. For 37 calves photographed on more than one occasion the growth rate averaged 2.8±0.7 cm per day, with no significant difference between growth rates of calves from primiparous and from other females, and no significant decrease in growth rate between July/September and September/November. Calves grew from an average of 40% of their mother's length in late July to 51% by mid-October. The size distribution of the adult females was no different from that of 25 adult females landed at South African whaling stations between 1911 and 1963 (after adjustment for possible differences in measurement techniques). Five near-term foetuses recovered in June-August in the same whaling operations also agree closely with the size of calves predicted for 1 August. In a comparison with 17 calves stranded or dying accidentally on the South African coast, most of the accidentally caught animals agreed closely in size with the sample of photogrammetrically measured animals, while most of the stranded animals were equal to or smaller in size than the smallest length interval in the photogrammetrically measured animals. The calves of primiparous females may therefore suffer a higher natural mortality rate than those of multiparous females.