Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Maui - A Whale of a Mom!
The Maui Nui basin which includes the islands of Maui, Lanai, Malokai, and Kahoolawe is a shallow area of water. The depth and the warmth of the water makes it a prime area for the birthing of the humpback whales. The female, or cow, has been here a year ago and allowed herself to become pregnant by choosing a male, a bull, with which to mate. The gestation has lasted almost a year and now she is back to give birth to her little one, the calf.
If you think in terms of size, the adult whale is the size of a school bus. The calf is roughly the size of an SUV. Some delivery! Which could explain why the female chooses to mate only every 2 to 4 years. The other explanation--probably more accurate, is that it takes a while to raise junior.
When the calf is first born, mom needs to gently bump it to the surface to get it to breath. Junior also needs to stay really close to mom for protection as well as feeding. He needs to understand surface intervals and begin to learn patterns of behavior for his survival. They will be making a long trip north to Alaska together and the path is laced with dangerous Orcas.
On several whale watching trips, we witnessed a cow with her calf but on one particular day, we found a pair where junior was really showing off. He and mom seemed to be playing together. He would rest on her "nose" and then playfully smack the water. Perhaps he realized he had an audience because he began showing off his latest learned skill--breaching.
When things slowed a bit and mom's tale turned to one side, we surmised he might be nursing. Nursing for a whale calf is a little different than for other mammals. He nudges mom's mammary gland and she secretes a thick cottage cheese-like milk that the little one gobbles up. He consumes about 100-150 pounds of the stuff a day.
It wasn't long and mom's tale was again in the water and junior was back on top of her. I wondered if she was tickling him from below to get him to breach again. Whatever was going on exactly, it was still quite a wonderful experience to be able to witness the beautiful interaction of mom and baby--even if baby has a face only a mother could love.