It’s hard to imagine something so large being an infant, but some baby whales are the biggest infant mammals in the world. These magnificent creatures are born underwater but yet need air from above to breath. It is a magnificent wonder in itself that they make it to their first breath.
These massive baby mammals are born into a world very different from our own. In an environment with rules and conditions vastly different to those that we humans need to survive. Yet like us they are warm, caring and intelligent.
Here are some fascinating baby whale facts you might not know, as well answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
6 Fascinating Baby Whale Facts
Baby Whales Are Called Calves
Baby whales, both male and female are called ‘calves‘. As they grow, male whales are called ‘bulls‘ and female whales are called ‘cows‘.
Most whales and dolphins are uniparous, meaning that they only give birth to one baby from a pregnancy. Some species are capable of delivering twins, but it is very rare, estimated to be less than 1% of pregnancies.
As whales are usually born as individual offspring, there isn’t a separate collective noun for a group of baby whales. They share the same collective noun as for any group of whales which is a ‘pod‘ of whales. A pod can consist of a family of whales with mothers and their offspring, or individuals that have a bonded friendship.
Baby Whales Are Often Reared In Larger Groups
With some species, baby whales, both males and females will normally stay in a pod with their mother for their entire lives. Females that start their own pods may spend more time away from their mother, but males generally spend over two thirds of their time around their mother. It has been known for up to four generations of a whale family to travel together.
Some whales will travel in groups of a mother, her calves and a couple of males. A pod may also include more females that are arearing calves as well though, giving them a greater chance of protecting their young together in a larger group.
There are differences across species though. With Sperm Whales for example, older males will form separate pods and only visit female-led groups to mate. With humpback whales, males will mate with a female then more on to new pastures. Calves will also move on once grown and independent. They don’t seem to be as social as other types of whale.
Some whales will venture off in smaller pods, and prefer a less social life. However, there can be safety in numbers and it is common for females
Baby Whales Breath Through Blowholes
While baby whales are born submerged in the ocean, they can’t breathe underwater. Like their parents, they need to breathe through a blowhole to take air into their lungs. They don’t have gills or the ability to absorb oxygen from the water in which they live.
For a baby whale to take its first breath it has to surface to the top of the ocean just like its mother. Luckily, a baby whale learns to swim very quickly once they are born, and the mother will help them to the surface to breathe. A whale can hold its breath for up to 90 minutes underwater so they have time to get their bearings first.
Baby Whales Are Usually Born In Shallow Waters
A mother cow whale will usually travel to shallow waters to give birth to their calves. There are good reasons for this too. In shallow water, sound does not travel as far and wide, so they can communicate with their calves with less threat of predators overhearing and zoning in on them.
Killer whales and sharks are also less likely to approach in shallow waters in general, so whales selectively choose bays very carefully, where the water isn’t too deep to give birth to and raise their calves.
Baby Whales Can Gain As Much As 10 Pounds Per Hour
Whales can gain a lot of weight very quickly. To facilitate this massive gain, mothers need to produce a huge amount of milk. With blue whales for example, a mother will produce up to 50 gallons of milk in a single day!
Much of this milk – up to 50% is fat which provides lots of energy. A blue whale calf taking in this milk can gain up to 10 lbs (4.5 kg) every hour. That’s up to a massive 250 lbs (113 kg) in a day. That’s more than the weight of the average adult male human, every day!
To deliver milk underwater to a baby whale has its own set of challenges. For a start, whales don’t have lips, so they can’t suckle like land mammals do. Instead, once the baby whale is in position and nudges the area where their mothers nipple is concealed, the mother ejects milk in a stream at pressure into the baby’s mouth.
Whale Pregnancies Can Last Up To 18 Months
Different types of whale have different gestation periods. Some whales are pregnant for as short as 10 months, while for others it can be as long as 18 months.
For those that are pregnant for 10 months, they are able to bare offspring as often as once a year, while for others it may be as long as six years between pregnancies. The average calving interval is between 2-3 years across the species.
Whales almost never have twins, and babies are usually born tail first. Like manatee babies, they can be delivered head first, but there is slightly more risk of drowning when this happens.
Blue Whale Calves Are The Largest Babies In The World
Blue whale calves are the largest offspring born anywhere in the world. Larger than the offspring of any other land or sea animal. They can weight as much as 4,400 – 7,800 lbs (2,000 to 3,500 kg) at birth and measure up to 23 feet (7 m) in length. They will double this size in the first six months of their life.
Some Baby Whales Shed Their Skin
While skin shedding is something you might mostly associate with baby snakes or reptiles, there are some baby whale calves that do this too.
Particularly the calves of Beluga Whales. When these large whales start to develop a thick layer of blubber, their skin is shed, and this happens regularly throughout their life. They will also go through an annual molt and this is something you don’t see with any other species of whale.
Baby Whale FAQs
What Is The Lifespan Of A Baby Whale?
The lifespan of whales varies widely across the different species, and some live for so long that it has been hard to accurately record their lifespan so far.
Blue whales for example, are estimated to live on average between 80 to 90 years, but this is yet to be definitively confirmed. Bowhead whales are thought to be able to life as long as 200 years, but time will tell. In terms of science, we haven’t been observing whales for long enough to accurately define some of their lifespans – they can live a long time!
Some, we can more accurately measure. The Beluga Whale for example, we know they live between 35-50 years on average. Also, the typical lifespan for a sperm whale is 70 years, though longer is possible.
How Many Baby Whales Are Born In A Litter?
Almost all whale births are of a single offspring. Twins can happen with some species, but these are estimated to occur in less than 1% of all births.
What Do Baby Whales Eat?
Baby whales will survive from their mothers milk entirely at first. They will continue to drink milk for between 4-11 months, but on average, are weaned by around 7 months.
Once onto solid food, baby whales will eat a variety of small fish and small sea creatures such as krill. They can eat lots of krill, which although tiny, make up a major part of their diet.
The adult blue whale for example, can eat up to 12,000 lbs of krill every day during a feeding season.
How Quick Do Baby Whales Grow?
It differs between species, but whales can generally be expected to double their size and weight within the first six months of their life. It may be between 5 to 15 years until they reach their full size and sexual maturity, depending on the type of whale.
Where Do Baby Whales Live?
Baby whales tend to live in shallow bay areas with their mothers, where food is plentiful and threats are low. Many whale species are migratory and will move around the oceans seasonally, for feeding and breeding. Some, such as the Bowhead whale, tend to stick to the same waters – particularly in the arctic, avoiding long journeys.
Natural Predators Of Baby Whales
It’s hard to think of an animal so big, that lives so remotely having any predators, but they do. There are not many animals that can challenge a whale, but some sharks are brave enough to give it a go. Other than humans, that have by far been the biggest and most impactful predator to whale populations over the centuries, it is the Orca that is the biggest natural predator.
Killer whales are apex predators, but are not true whales as the name suggests. They are actually a member of the dolphin family. They might be smaller than the blue whale but they will actively hunt and kill them particularly baby whales that are easier prey.