Like the Humpback, commercial whaling decimated Southern Right Whale numbers. Its habit of lingering in bays and sheltered coastal areas made it an easy target - it had virtually disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century. Fortunately, with strong protection its numbers have gradually increased since the early 1970s, and the species is returning to most of its former range.
Aerial surveys of the South African coastline flown annually since 1971 have shown that the population has increased at 7% a year, equivalent to a doubling of the population every 10 years. The southern whales are more abundant (the South African population is about 3 000, and the total southern hemisphere population is about 8 000) but are still vulnerable to extinction. The population visiting South Africa is estimated to be still less than 10% of its original size.