Southern Right Whale Placenta Washes Up On The Beach

One beautiful sunny morning, a few days ago, while walking the long stretch of beach named Grotto Beach near VoĆ«lklip on the Hermanus coastline, I came across this amazing sight — the after-birth of a Southern Right Whale, washed up on the beach. At least, that’s what I think it was.

The whale that is seen most often in Walker Bay is the Southern Right Whale, so my assumption is that it once belonged to a Southern Right. However, other species do make an appearance occasionally so one can’t be certain.

I didn’t know what this was at first. It looked alien lying there half buried in the sand. I took these photographs and it was only a few days later, after doing some on-line research that it finally dawned on me — it was a whale’s placenta.

Southern Right Whale placenta washed up on the beach
This Southern Right Whale placenta was washed up on the beach on the Southern Coast of Africa near Hermanus -- click any photo to enlarge

You can get an idea of the size (once you’ve gotten over the gross factor) by comparing the footprint in the sand on the next photograph. At about 3 meters (10 feet) long it’s huge — see 3 photographs.

The Southern Right Whale is a baleen whale, and it got the “Right” part of its name due to the fact that, once the Southern Right has been despatched, the carcase will float semi-submerged on the water like an iceberg, most of its bulk under the water. This made it easier for the whalers to handle and transport their bounty back to the whaling station.

You can get an idea of the size from foot-print in the sand
You can get an idea of the size from the foot-print in the foreground. The part shown in this photo is the upper third in the next photograph

The “Southern” part of its name comes from the fact that there are two separate species of Right Whales. One is the South African species and the other is found in the Northern Hemisphere.

Whales are migratory, spending summer months of December through May, in the cold polar regions of the Southern Hemisphere, about 2000 kilometres (1250 miles) off the coast of Africa.

In the winter months of June through November they are found in the shallow coastal waters of Southern Africa and mainly in the waters off the coast of Hermanus in Walker Bay — a.k.a. the “Whale-watching Capital of the World.”

Our coast provides shallow, sandy-bottomed and sheltered bays and this is exactly what the Southern Right whales need during their mating, and calving season.

The whale placenta lies half buried in the sand
The whale placenta lies half buried in the sand and measures about 3 meters (10 feet) in length. The piece at top-centre is shown in the previous photograph

According to a local website Hermanus dot-com:

Females usually have one calf every three years. Gestation (pregnancy) is about 13 months. Most calves are born during August. They have an average length of 6.1 meters (20 feet). They suckle for 4 to 8 months and drink up to 600 litres (158 gallons) of milk per day growing 3 cm (1.2 inches) per day. The mothers apparently do not feed during this season but live on the blubber they store up during the summer feeding season closer to Antarctica.

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