A group of Colombian and Spanish scientists, from Fundación Macuáticos Colombia and Madre Agua Colombia, managed to record a video of a humpback whale nursing its calf in the Gulf of Cupica, in Bahía Solano, in the Chocó Pacific.
Natalia Botero Acosta, a biologist from the University of Antioquia, Master’s and PhD in animal behavior and neuroscience at the University of Southern Mississippi and one of the researchers who captured the exact moment of lactation described what can be seen in the video: “We see how the calf descends to its mother after surfacing to breathe. It stimulates the genital area of the whale, the mammary slits, and it sticks to its mother to suckle”.
In the video, which lasts about a minute, you can see how the milk is dispersed in the water. In the end, the little calf of almost 900 kilos returns to the surface to breathe. Acosta added: “It is interesting to see the posture that the mother exercises while she breastfeeds. She is passive, she is almost immobile, with her pectoral fins extended, making extremely slow movements; she just lets herself be carried away by the current, ”adds the scientist, who is part of the Macuáticos Colombia Foundation.
The images in the video were obtained thanks to state-of-the-art devices with multi-sensors that adhere to the back of the whale like a kind of jacket. In the capsule that is attached to the animal there are cameras, thermometers, microphones and many other tools to analyze the health and behavior of the world‘s largest mammals.
Another of the project scientists, Mar Palanca Gascón, a biologist from the University of Valencia (Spain), a master’s degree in evolutionary biology and co-founder of the scientific tourism platform Madre Agua, tells how they managed to monitor the whales in detail. She explained that when the whales come up to breathe near the boat, the capsule is put on them. The devices remain attached to the animal for 15 to 20 hours, then release, float and send a GPS signal so scientists can find them and study the data.
This video is the second in the world that shows the intimate moment in which a whale feeds its calf. It was recorded in August 2022 in Cupica, Bahía Solano, in Chocó, and was presented to the public on June 23, 2023 in Medellín. The first was recorded in 2021 in the waters off Hawaii.
For about three months the females mate with the males and those pregnant in the previous season give birth to their calves and nourish them with milk that is up to 40% fat. As a result, calves that are born weighing close to a ton and measuring approximately four meters will gain hundreds of kilograms before migrating to their feeding grounds in Antarctica.
Despite the fact that, as the experts say, there are behaviors of humpback whales that are still a mystery to science; for example, in relation to copulation between male and female and childbirth; The discovered images open up new scenarios for scientific research, help raise awareness in communities about the need to protect ecosystems, and serve as an input and tool for designing public conservation policies after more than 40 years of research on these cetaceans.