How do baby whales suckle underwater?

Despite being mammals, baby whales don’t suckle like we humans suckle as babies. So how does it work?

Have you ever wondered how baby whales suckle underwater? Yea? No? Then this post is for you. Come with me!

Whale with its calf. Source

Whales are the largest aquatic mammals we know of, which means that mother whales give milk to their young, but this happens underwater. But how?

When the cub is born, it urgently needs to get to the surface in order to breathe for the first time. After breathing and exercising a little, it’s time to drink milk to get strong and grow. Then he goes to his mother and feeds [1].

This is because, as soon as he is born, the oxygen that was received by the umbilical cord is stopped. Therefore, as it needs to go to the surface, the mother whale adjusts itself in a position where the calf does not spend much time on this journey [1].

The mother whale puts herself in a different position! As well?

It is usually in an upright position. That way, the head is facing the ocean floor and its tail is out of the water. This position helps the female’s mammary glands stay close to the surface [1].

Female whales have 2 mammary slits , as if they were “nipples”, located in the thoracic region of the ventral part [2], both on each side of the genital slit. The mammary glands present in your body become swollen during the lactation period [3], just like in women.

Despite all these devices, puppies do not suckle milk like human puppies, as they do not need a direct connection to the mother’s body. In fact, the puppies give small headbutts , that is, stimuli, in the region of the cleft for the milk to be squirted , and in the water they drink the milk [4]. So the mother whale practically throws her milk away?

milk substance

Whale milk, unlike human milk, is made up of about 40% fat , which contributes to the rapid growth of babies [1]. In addition to fat, it also contains proteins and sugars [5].

The blubber is important to keep the whales warm in cold waters, that is, it serves as a thermal insulator [6].

As the milk is high in fat and is being released into the water, the two do not mix, so the milk is not lost in the water and the puppy can drink it. To make it easier, the puppy’s tongue is in a U shape , helping not to miss any milk jets.

U-shaped tongue. Font

Pause: Beautiful record!

In February of this year (2020), amazing scientists from the University of Hawaii ‘s Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP) , Goldbogen Lab at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station Stanford University’s Hopkins Navy) and the Friedlander Lab at the University of California , Santa Cruz (University of California, Santa Cruz Friedlander’s Laboratory) managed to capture a beautiful moment that captures the baby humpback whale “sucking” on its mother [7] .

Humpback whale suckling. Source

The project carried out by this collaborative network among researchers aims to quantify the suckling behavior of humpback whales in breeding sites on Maui , one of the large islands of Hawaii [7].

But despite knowing this, studies like the one above are still being carried out in order to better understand the suckling of baby whales.

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