Cow! What a Calf
Keith Jones is crazy
about the baby whales in the lagoons. This seasoned guide, photographer,
and naturalist describes gray whale babies that are born in the
warm lagoons in December, January, and February each year:
photo shows a baby surfacing near our boat one January.
him, most of the dozen babies we saw were from one to three weeks old.
Babies this young have a pug-nosed appearance, with facial dimples where
hair follicles are. The white specks at the center of the dimples are the
actual hairs. Remember: whales are mammals, so they must have some hair — or
at least a few whiskers!
to a New Generation
mostly occur from early January to the end of February. The gray whale
baby grows inside its mom for is 11 - 13 months. A newborn gray whale is
around 15 feet long at birth. It weighs
about 2,000 pounds. In some cases, another gray whale (called an "auntie")
helps during the birth. The auntie may help hold the mother above the water,
the calf can be born headfirst into the air. If it's born under
water, the auntie or the mother will
help boost the baby as it swims to the surface
for its first breath of air. They watch the baby with care.
The pregnant females and those with calves stay in the inner
lagoon, farthest from the sea. The warmer waters of Baja Mexico's shallow
lagoons help newborns to conserve body heat. Babies are born lean and
relatively blubberless. The calves
nurse for around 6 months. The mother provides up to
50 gallons of milk each day. Her milk contains 53% fat. Such rich milk
60 to 70 pounds daily! It helps them build up thick blubber for their cold
and Baby: a Great Team.
Photo Keith Jones
Mothers stay near their young to protect, teach and guide. Babies
have much to learn. They must also gain strength. They spend
most their time swimming alongside Mom. When they get tired, they
stretch out sideways across Mom's back to rest. Sometimes
the mother extends a fin to support the calf. This is
much like an adult parent, who might place a hand under a child's
stomach while teaching the child how to swim. The moms even let their
babies approach the small boats that hold curious tourists who come
to see the whales up close. The whales seem to trust the people.
The whales are gentle, and everyone makes new friends!
This! Journaling Question
- What evidence
indicates that gray whales are "good" mothers?
- Why do you think the lagoons are good environments
for baby whales?
- How much
will a baby gray whale weigh if it starts the journey north at about
two months of age? (Be careful! Remember how much it already weighs
at birth, and how much it gains each day.)
Science Education Standards
and animals have life cycles that include being born, developing into
adults, reproducing, and eventually dying.
are the spaces, conditions, and factors that affect an individual's
and a population's ability to survive and their quality of life.