Stranded Pygmy Right Whale
Pygmy Right Whales look like a juvenile Southern Right Whale with a tubby body shape and a similar shape of head known as a bucket head due to the large bowed mouth. The major difference is that they have a small sickle shaped dorsal fin - lacking in the Southern Right Whales. The dorsal fin makes it immediately identifiable from a juvenile Southern Right Whale. Pygmy Right Whales have small rounded flippers and are the smallest of the baleen whales only reaching 6m and 3 ton. Like the Minke, they are dark grey above and lighter underneath but can be easily distinguished by the distinctive head and two throat grooves. They are rarely photographed or seen free swimming in the wild, although the best chances to see them are in spring and summer when they move closer inshore.
Distribution map of sightings and strandings (click to enlarge)
This is the smallest of the baleen whales, with the larger females reaching only 6m in length and weighing up to 3 ton. They are very common throughout Australasian waters but are not commonly seen as they are often off the continental shelf. They feed on krill and usually occur singly or as mother and calf or in unrelated feeding groups.
The Pygmy Right Whale is the most common baleen whale that strands in Tasmania. Over 85 individual animals have been recorded stranding in Tasmania with similar numbers in New Zealand and South Africa. They are familiar with the coastline as they occur in both open ocean and coastal areas. Those that strand usually do so because they are either unwell or already dead. In general, they do not survive very long and are often not fit to be returned to the sea. Often palliative care is all that can be offered.