How Long Are Whales Pregnant For? Marine Motherhood Explained For Kids

Akinwalere Olaleye
Oct 23, 2023 By Akinwalere Olaleye
Originally Published on Nov 04, 2021
Killer whale pair leaping together in ocean.

The bond between a whale mother and its offspring is the most important for the survival of these mammals.

To live a life underwater, the mother faces challenges that are unimaginable for humans. Human activities like water pollution, noise pollution, over fishing, and chemical releases in the sea pose massive threats to their habitats.

With this in mind, learning in the early years is vital for these mammals in such a demanding underwater environment. It is the mother who teaches them how to protect themselves from various threats that may come upon them.

Whales are known to be amazing mothers. Mother whales make their baby calves their top priority and put enormous effort into raising them. It is these maternal efforts that ensure the survival of the calves in the future.

In this article, we will learn about different types of whales, how long they are pregnant, and how they give birth to their calves. Keep reading to know more about whales and being a whale mother.

Afterwards, do check how do whales drink milk underwater and how long are elephants pregnant here at Kidadl.

Different Types Of Whale And Their Pregnancy Durations

There are many types of species of whales, and their pregnancy durations vary. Pregnancy in a mammal is known as the time when a female will carry their offspring in their womb from mating through the gestation period to the time of giving birth.

The gestation period is the time when the fetus develops. The gestation period is different for various kinds of species. Small species have a shorter gestation period, whereas larger species have a longer gestation period.

Let us look into the different types of whales and their pregnancy durations.

Blue Whale: Blue whales are not only the largest whale species but also the largest animals known to have lived on our planet. Blue whales are a light blue-gray color when they are at the surface of the sea but when underwater look a brighter aqua blue color.

The gestation period for these whales can vary between 10-12 months. Blue whales attract their mates through song, emitting a loud and repetitive sound that can be heard for miles underwater.

Killer Whale: Killer whales are also known as orca whales. Killer whales are easily recognized by their black and white patterned bodies.

Killer whales or orca whales are the top carnivores in the food chain and have a gestation period of 15-18 months. Did you know that killer whales belong to the family of dolphins?

Orca whales are called whales because of their enormous size and their daring hunting style and are the largest member of the dolphin family. After humans, orca whales are the most widely distributed mammals and they can be found in every ocean in the world.

Humpback Whales: Humpback whales get their name due to a hump in front of their small dorsal fin. This hump is more prominent when they raise and bend their backs in preparation for a dive.

The gestation period for humpback whales ranges from 10-11 months. Did you know that humpback males sing a long and complex song during their breeding time?

Sperm Whale: These whales are named so because of the huge bulbous spermaceti organ on their head. Female sperm whales are known to form lifelong relationships and live in units of extended family.

The average gestation period for these whales ranges from 14-16 months. Did you know that sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal in the world?

Stages Of Whale Pregnancy

Like many other mammals, whales share mammal-like reproductive characteristics, for example, breathing and giving birth to young ones. From the length of pregnancy to birth, female whales have a similar gestation period to human pregnancies.

It is very similar to human birth, except the length of gestation period may last longer for the whale species. The process of giving birth can also differ from semiaquatic animals too.

Whales reach sexual maturity at a young age. Males reach sexual maturity around the age of 7-10 years, whereas a female gains sexual maturity between the age of five to seven years.

A female whale gives birth to a calf every two to three years, whereas a killer whale or orca whale gives birth between three to five years which is considered a longer reproductive cycle than other marine animals. To increase their chance of getting pregnant, female whales can have multiple mating partners at once during the mating season.

In fact, a female whale can mate multiple times with multiple mating partners in a couple of hours to increase her chances of getting pregnant.

During the mating season, whales migrate to warm waters if they live in colder ocean regions.

Like many mammals, male whales have unique behaviors to court a female whale during the mating season. These can vary from doing acrobatic stunts in the water to having special songs to impress the female whale.

After mating and once the female whales become pregnant, the gestation periods vary between different species and range from 9-16 months. During this time, female whales move towards a warmer environment so that their offspring can be born in a temperate environment.

How do whales give birth?

Like many mammals, whales give birth and do not lay eggs. As mammals, the offspring grows inside the womb of their mothers. In the womb, the baby calf feeds on nutrient-rich blood through the umbilical cord.

In the birth process, the fins of the calves emerge first. After the gestation period and birth, the mothers guide their baby calves to the surface of the ocean to take their first breath.

The whale mother is extremely careful to keep the calf close, as they are extremely prone to danger. The offspring then eats by nursing from their mother.

The calf feeds off the milk and nursing is continued using the mammary glands, just like many other animals. The milk contains a high percentage of fat, which helps the milk not dissolve in the ocean.

The nursing period for the calves can continue up to six months of age, or until the calf can find food for itself. Calves can feed off of milk for about two years until they become self-sufficient.

Did you know that calves of the orca whale (also known as a killer whale) can stay with their mothers until this offspring has an offspring of their own, even after reaching sexual maturity?

After reaching sexual maturity, the whale calf, now a fully grown whale, will repeat the processes of mating, becoming pregnant, giving birth, and repeating the cycle over again. An average lifespan of a whale can be 20-200 years long, depending on its species and habitat.

What animal is pregnant the shortest?

Now after learning about whales, their pregnancy, how a calf is born, and different species of whales, you must be curious about what animals have the shortest gestation periods. Let us find out.

A Virginia opossum, commonly known as the North American opossum, has the shortest known gestation period of only 12 days (this is shorter than two weeks!). Smaller species tend to have shorter gestation periods than larger ones. Virginia Opossums can also have up to 20 babies in a litter.

Elephants are the largest land mammals in the world and are known to have the longest gestation period. An African elephant and an Indian elephant have the longest gestation period ranging from 22-23 months. The elephant gestation period is known to be the longest gestation period in mammals!

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for how long are whales pregnant, then why not take a look at how long are goats pregnant, or strap toothed whale facts?

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Written by Akinwalere Olaleye

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

Akinwalere Olaleye picture

Akinwalere OlaleyeBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

As a highly motivated, detail-oriented, and energetic individual, Olaleye's expertise lies in administrative and management operations. With extensive knowledge as an Editor and Communications Analyst, Olaleye excels in editing, writing, and media relations. Her commitment to upholding professional ethics and driving organizational growth sets her apart. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Benin, Edo State. 

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