Baby whales hold a special place in the hearts of animal lovers everywhere. Spotting a mother and her baby whale calf as they glide majestically through the waters of Moreton Bay is a unique pleasure. It’s obvious that Humpbacks make attentive, loving mothers, but what do we really know about the lives of baby Humpback whales?
Adult female Humpback whales give birth to one baby every 2 to 3 years, with the gestation period lasting about 11 to 12 months. This gives the mothers plenty of opportunity to travel to warmer waters where it’s much safer to give birth. The mother is also able to prepare her calf for the long trip back to colder feeding grounds in the Antarctic.
Baby Humpbacks arrive in the world tail first, and without the characteristic barnacles that adorn adult Humpbacks under their chin. They are smooth and pale grey in colour, but darken within a few days. At birth, they can weigh up to 900 kilos, which is about one third of their mother’s size. Once the baby is born, mum will bring him or her to the surface for their very first breath. Baby then immediately begins to swim and attempts to dive and head lunge. They’re very intelligent and curious about their surroundings, and will try to explore. Well, as much as Mum will allow!
Baby Humpbacks are nursed for their first year, and are fed milk from their mother. They don’t really latch on in the human sense, but instead position themselves over their mother while she squirts milk into their mouth through compressor muscles in her mammary glands.
The milk Humpback mums provide their babies is thick and yoghurt-like, made up of 40-60% fat. Amazingly, calves can drink as much as 600 litres of milk a day. This helps the baby build up their blubber layer so they can safely travel back to the Antarctic feeding grounds. You can tell when a calf is feeding because Mum usually stays underwater, and the baby will surface every few minutes to breathe. They’re weaned on to solid food after about 7 months.
While swimming with Mum, Humpback babies are positioned over their mother’s head. This protects them from attacks from predators. Mum will often place herself between her baby and any approaching male whale, as they will push the babies out of the way to mate with her. Mum will also place herself between her baby and an approaching boat, although some mother Humpbacks enjoy showing their babies off.
Mother whales also teach their babies everything they know about feeding, migration, and other necessary life lessons. Once the baby has grown, they often seek out other whales from their own maternal line who have learned these same lessons in a similar way.
To see these amazing mothers and their babies, book your whale experience today. Contact us at Brisbane Whale Watching on 3880 0477.