Did you know that marine mammals also breast-feed?

Sabia que os mamíferos marinhos também amamentam?
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Breast-feed is the act, from a female mammal, to feed its young with the milk that they produce. Whales and dolphins are marine mammals, which means that they also breast-feed their calves, depending directly on the milk of their mom in the first years of their lives.

After birth, it is essential that the calf receives the colostrum and milk from its mother. The major difference between marine mammals' milk and human milk is their composition. The colostrum, in addition to being exclusively the first mammary fluid, is richer in components essential for newborn immunity. As the calf grows, the composition of the milk changes, adapting to the needs of the new member of the family. Whales can give their calves 570 L of milk daily.

In the case of the Odontoceti (toothed whales), the nursing can last up to 2 years, and the fat content in the milk is lower than in the Mysticeti (baleen whales). Due to the baleen whales’ migratory behavior, the nursing just lasts a maximum of 10 months, but the milk has a bigger percentage of fat - 10 times more than the human milk. Therefore whales’ milk is thicker, similar to a yogurt, which makes it easier to drink underwater.

blog picos de aventura amamentar
Image 1 | Mother and calf pairing of common dolphins (Delphinus delphis).

But, if they don't have lips to suck the nipple, how do the calves drink the milk?

The marine mammals have developed 'mammary slits', which are special folds of skin that enclose feeding glands commonly called inverted nipples. With this type of nipples, the mother is more hydrodynamic, so to release the milk, the calf presses the nipple cavity with its lower jaw and the milk is injected into its mouth. It’s not completely understood yet whether specialized muscles contract the mammary glands and squeeze the milk into the baby's mouth or if the calf channels the milk by folding the tongue.

Blog article written by our biologist Fátima Pérez.

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