Doesn't the milk just disappear into the ocean? No, the whale calf gets what it needs.
Doesn't the milk just disappear into the ocean? No, the whale calf gets what it needs.

This is how whales nurse underwater

“There's something special about whale milk,” researcher says.

About 380 million years ago, our ancestors stopped being fish and came up on land.

Some animals, however, found their way back to the ocean.

Whales, seals, and manatees are examples of this.

Even though they live their lives underwater, they are mammals like us.

But how do whales manage to give milk to their young underwater?

Sofia Aniceto is a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). She researches whales.
Sofia Aniceto is a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). She researches whales.

Tucked away

“It’s absolutely essential for whale calves to drink milk from their mothers,” Sofia Aniceto, a whale researcher at NTNU, says.

And they manage to do it. A whale calf can gain up to 100 kilograms per day.

“Whales don’t have nipples like us, but mammary slits. They are tucked away under thick folds of skin,” she says.

When the whale calf brushes against them, the mammary slits become visible.

A humpback calf starts eating krill and small fish after seven months. Before that, it gets milk from its mother.
A humpback calf starts eating krill and small fish after seven months. Before that, it gets milk from its mother.

Curls its tongue

Whales squirt the milk directly into the mouth of the whale calf.

It tastes like a mixture of oil, fish, liver, and magnesium.

To avoid wasting milk, the whale calf has a clever trait.

It can curl its tongue into a tube and direct the milk straight into its mouth.

Whale milk is as thick as toothpaste. It tastes like a mixture of oil, fish, liver, and magnesium.
Whale milk is as thick as toothpaste. It tastes like a mixture of oil, fish, liver, and magnesium.

Like toothpaste

Sperm whales have a different type of mouth and have to collect the milk from the water.

“How do they manage that? Won't the milk just float away?”

“No, it’s possible because of the thickness. Almost half of whale milk is fat,” Aniceto says.

In other words, the milk is as thick as toothpaste.

“The milk is important for the whale calves to grow and get enough energy. They also gain blubber on their bodies, and it keeps them warm,” she says.

Some lived on land before they found their way back to the ocean. Whales, seals, and dolphins are examples of this.
Some lived on land before they found their way back to the ocean. Whales, seals, and dolphins are examples of this.

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Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik

Read the Norwegian version of this article on ung.forskning.no

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