Got Milk?

Whales are mammals, just like us.

As fellow mammals, whales nurse their young on milk, which is what’s going on in the image below:

humpback whale calf nursing
Humpback whale nursing female calf, escort visible behind (License image)

The calf in the photo was a little girl. Both she and her mother had lots of white on their bodies, as by coincidence, did the escort that was with them during this encounter (the first of two meetings). I nicknamed the calf Snow White, because of her pigmentation and because she was just that sweet.

I’ve seen calves nursing on many occasions, but have only been able to photograph this taking place a couple of times, as more often than not, baby whales nurse while on the move, or while down deep.

Here, the adult female was at rest in relatively shallow water, with the calf nursing between breaths.

When calves nurse, they sometimes open their mouths and gulp water on the way up to breath. I’m not sure why they do this, but perhaps it’s to clear their throats, so to speak.

One reason I think this might be the case is that sometimes milk sort of leaks from their mouths, like this:

humpback whale milk
Humpback whale milk (License image)

The humpback whale milk pictured here spilled out of Snow White’s mouth when she came up for a breath cycle.

One thing to note is how viscous and gooey the milk is. This makes perfect sense if you think about it. Humpback whale milk has a high fat content in order to support the significant caloric requirements of a growing calf. No low-fat, skim stuff for growing whales!

Perhaps the best part of this encounter though, is what happened afterward, as I watched the whales glide along while breathing at the surface. I was so engrossed in observing the whales that I must’ve swum right into some whale milk.

The moment was captured with impeccable timing by my friend Eric, who nailed the composition with a single press of the shutter. Yup. He only took one shot, and this is what he captured…a perfectly framed photo of milk wisping out of my rear.

humpback whale milk
Eric managed to capture my best angle

Sort of gives new meaning to the advertising slogan: “Got Milk?