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17     Nursing Their Young


ABOVE: This is a photograph of the genital area of a female called 'Harmony', her head is to the lower right and her fluke to the left. Females have a lobe, known as the 'hemispherical lobe', at the lower end of the genital area which is shaped like half a grapefruit. They also have raised lips either side of the genital area from which the nipples protrude when a calf is feeding. By contrast the male genital area is flat and has no lobe. These features make it possible to determine the gender of a whale. Knowing whether a humpback is male or female is very important in interpreting and understanding behaviour.

(Photo: Trish Franklin)

Nursing begins almost immediately. When the calf wishes to feed, the mothers nipples protrude the calf grasping the teat between its tongue and upper jaw.

Because the calf must surface for air frequently, the initial nursing sessions last only a few seconds. Calves will nurse about forty times throughout the day and night and consume about three gallons of milk at each feeding.

A calf may depend upon its mother for over twelve months and weaning begins when they reach the feeding grounds in Antarctica.

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