Whales are naturally gentle, curious animals, and incredibly smart. So it’s not uncommon to see them nudging up on a paddle boarder or kayaker every once in a while, just to see what’s up.
That’s what happened recently to paddleboarder Analia Giorgetti in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Two Southern right whales visited Giorgetti while she was paddleboarding, and local photographer Maxi Jonas captured an amazing aerial view of the encounter.
Additionally, Giorgetti told BBC News, “They were very peaceful and amicable,” as if “curious children” had come to visit her. In Jonas’ drone video, one of the whales actually nudges Giorgetti along the water with its huge flipper. Giorgetti said, “In that moment, I didn’t feel fear.”
“It was a magical moment,” Giorgetti continued, “it was such a privilege…I just enjoyed the moment, and it was my birthday. What a birthday present for me!”
Southern Right Whales
Southern right whales live all throughout the Southern Hemisphere. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they are endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and considered depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
They usually have distinct white markings on their bellies and chins. Additionally, they range in size between 43 to 56 feet, and can weigh up to 176,000 pounds.
As far as their behavior, according to NOAA, Southern right whales, “exhibit breaching (partially or almost completely jumping out of the water,) lobtailing (slapping the water’s surface with the flukes,) flippering (slapping the water’s surface with the pectoral flippers,) and ‘sailing’ (lifting and holding the flukes above the surface, allowing the wind to push the animal through the water).”
Southern right whales lifespans are similar to North Pacific and North Atlantic right whales. That is to say, about 70 years. Females give birth after a year, and the calves are 16 to 20 feet long at birth.
What to Do About Conservation
According to NOAA, Southern right whales encounter many threats: “entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes, industrialization of coastal and marine habitats that can result in habitat degradation, ocean noise, and changes in water conditions and dynamics due to climate change.” Indeed, until around the 1960s, the whaling industry hunted the right whale almost to extinction.
A lot of whales now die to “bycatching”, which is where whales get caught in fixed fishing gear made for fish and can’t escape. Developing better fishing gear can help prevent bycatch and keep them from being caught accidentally.
Now, some populations have come back, but the ESA still considers it endangered. The populations have grown, but are still small in comparison. According to Whales and Dolphins Conservation USA, there are about 7,500 right whales in the oceans today, and at least 150,000 died to whaling.