Do You Know: How Do Whales Drink Milk Underwater? Amazing Whale Facts

Ayan Banerjee
Feb 07, 2023 By Ayan Banerjee
Originally Published on Nov 10, 2021
Edited by Katherine Cook
Fact-checked by Shruti Thapa
Humpback whale jumping out of the water in Australia.

Have you ever wondered how do whales and dolphins breastfeed their babies in water?

Breastfeeding or nursing underwater is very difficult. So whales have a unique technique to give food to their calves.

Like other animals and humans, whales and dolphins also breastfeed their young ones. But nursing for marine mammals becomes very hard. Whale and dolphin mothers shoot milk into their young ones mouth.

Female whales and dolphins have large mammary slits, from which the nipple emerges for feeding the calf. The mother's nipple is short and different from humans and animals, so this creature has to choose another nursing method.

Humpback whales, blue whales, and dolphins gain a lot of weight every day due to the high-fat content in their milk. Their milk is a lot more viscous and thick than other animals.

Learn more interesting and amazing facts about pygmy killer whale facts and how do whales sleep at Kidadl.

By what mechanism does a whale feed milk underwater?

Whales are mistaken with the word 'fish'. Whales are not fish, but actually are true mammals and like other mammals, breastfeed their babies. However, breastfeeding their babies in the ocean is tricky.

The question is how do they breastfeed in the ocean. A whale's lips are very hard and since a whale's nipples are not that long and the babies do not have limbs to navigate the nipples to suck, a mother whale has to find a different way to feed its babies.

A baby whale curls up its tongue in a straw or u-shaped to the mother's nipple.

The mother whale will then shoot milk to the baby's mouth and that's how whales breastfeed their babies. Baby whales cannot suck for a long time from the mother's breast, because the mother has to stay still in the water, which is tough.

So they implement this process to feed their babies.

In this process, the mother whale can shoot more than 2.6 gal (10 l) of milk in a few seconds. The milk is viscous and thick in form, like toothpaste, and is very difficult to dilute in seawater.

Does a whale have mammary slits for feeding milk underwater?

Whales are true mammals, so it is obvious they breastfeed their baby. But if you look at a whale mother's body, you probably will not find any breasts or nipples like other terrestrial mammals.

Since they have to live in the ocean, they have a smooth and slippery body just like other fish and due to that reason, their diving resistance decreases which leads them to be more vulnerable. But this doesn't mean they do not have mammary glands to feed their young ones.

If you look closely at the belly, you will find a long crack. This is the genital and anus slot.

It is also the place for production and excretion. There are two symmetrical cracks on both sides of the genital opening. This is the mammary gland opening.

The belly of a female whale has a single mammary slit. Since they are called glands, the nipples are hidden, and only appear during the time of suckling.

Whales accidentally swallow water sometimes, but when they go above sea level, they forcefully expel air through their blowhole, which helps to remove the water they drank.

Whale in the ocean.

Do whales produce milk?

Yes, whales and dolphins are marine mammals and they do produce milk. Nursing their young defines mammals and nursing underwater is a very difficult job. A mother's milk is very viscous and it does not dilute easily in the water.

The milk is so thick that it floats in the ocean. Depending on the size of the calf, it will need different amounts of milk.

Species with large bodies like sperm whales or humpback whales juveniles are species with large bodies that can drink lots of liters of milk, around 109.9 gal (500 l) per day. The calf's growth rate is very fast.

Whale milk contains more than 50% of fat and for this reason, calves grow at a very fast rate, almost 198.4 lb (90 kg) per day. It is not uncommon for baby whales to gain a lot of weight each day.

Blue whales have the largest mammary glands in the world. Each is about 59 in (1.5 m) long and weighs like a baby elephant.

The mother can produce 44 gal (200 l) per day with 35-50% of fat content. The blue whale baby gains weight about 220.4 lb (100 kg) per day.

How does a sperm whale calf nurse?

The sperm whale has inverted nipples and this makes it easier for both the mother and calf, when feeding the baby.

The baby just has to swim to the cavity and nudge on the go. As soon as the simulation begins, the mother's nipples emerge and milk is released into the water.

The calves then feed directly from the water. Species like a humpback whale, sperm whale, and other whales and dolphins have high-fat content in their milk and so the young ones gain a lot of weight every day.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for Do you know: how do whales drink milk underwater?

Amazing whale facts then why not take a look at Incredible facts about black and white animals that all kids will love! or Know your food better: how is margarine made? Cool fun facts for all.

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Written by Ayan Banerjee

Bachelor of Science specializing in Nautical Science

Ayan Banerjee picture

Ayan BanerjeeBachelor of Science specializing in Nautical Science

Thanks to his degree in nautical science from T.S. Chanakya, IMU Navi Mumbai Campus, Ayan excels at producing high-quality content across a range of genres, with a strong foundation in technical writing. Ayan's contributions as an esteemed member of the editorial board of The Indian Cadet magazine and a valued member of the Chanakya Literary Committee showcase his writing skills. In his free time, Ayan stays active through sports such as badminton, table tennis, trekking, and running marathons. His passion for travel and music also inspire his writing, providing valuable insights.

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Fact-checked by Shruti Thapa

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English

Shruti Thapa picture

Shruti ThapaBachelor of Arts specializing in English

With a passion for American, British, and children's literature, Shruti is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree at Garden City University, Bengaluru. Her fluency in Nepali, Hindi, and Mandarin demonstrates her linguistic abilities and global perspective. In addition to her literary pursuits, she has a keen interest in non-fiction literature, aesthetics, early childhood education, and Egyptian history. Shruti's research paper 'Bringing Art Illustrations In Education And Pop Culture' showcases her proficiency in these areas and her dedication to academic excellence.

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