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25     September and October: Feeding and Nursery School


ABOVE: Venus adopts the fluke-up feeding position for her 1995 calf, 'Cupid'. She maintains this position for hours to ensure that the young calf gets the food needed to prepare him for the long journey to Antarctica. The two distinctive black dots on the upper left under-fluke make her easy to recognise and we saw her again with a new calf 'Cherub', in 1998.

(Photo: Trish Franklin)

Mothers with young calves spend many hours feeding their young. A young calf can consume up to 120 gallons of milk per day. The mother's milk is a highly rich substance and contains a high level of fat. Young calves can double their length by the end of the nursing period. Feeding usually takes place with the mother submerging in a horizontal position for approximately 8 minutes at a time with the young calves surfacing for air four or five times during the 8 minutes.

The older calves with a little more body weight finding it harder to submerge, are sometimes fed with the mother adopting a vertical position.

The mother with head down and tail flukes above the surface of the water allows the calf to get easy access to her teats which are just above the tail stem.

The young humpback very soon begins to imitate the behaviour of the adults. Clumsy at first, but repeated tries increases their skills. Mothers often follow patiently behind their calf allowing plenty of time for practice. Displays of affection from the mother to the calf which are part of this nurturing stage include the mother stroking her pectoral fins along the under belly of the calf and tumbling the calf off her upper jaw.

The feeding time in Hervey Bay is important for fattening the young calves sufficiently to tackle the long journey back to Antarctic

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