Results of annual aerial surveys of the right whale population along the southern coast of South Africa from 1971 to 1987 are analysed. About 91.5% of cows with calves and 82% of unaccompanied adults on the South African coast in spring are found within the standard survey area, with some indications that the range is expanding up the west coast. In the nearshore region, most right whales (90%) are found within 1.85 km, and all cows with calves within 0.93 km, of the coast. Within the standard survey area, specific areas of concentration can be predictably identified, both for cows with calves and unaccompanied adults. Although total counts (and counts expressed per hour flown) have increased overall, by a best estimate of 6.8% (95% CL 4.6, 9.0) per year from 1971 to 1987, some concentration areas for both classes have failed to show an increase over the same time period. Photographic flights since 1979 have permitted the movements of individually identified adult females to be monitored between successive calves. In at least one concentration area for which no overall increase between 1971 and 1987 was apparent (Mossel Bay), a large net emigration rate was found, nearly all of which involved a shift to the main nursery area to the west, off De Hoop. Reasons for the dissimilar dynamics of different concentration areas are not yet known.