Mike Korostelev, 38, was diving in the Indian Ocean when he saw a mother sperm whale feeding her calf.
As the calf neared its mother, the massive whale’s mammary glands ejected a stream of milk into her child’s path. The calf fed on the milk underwater without latching on.
According to Scitable by Nature Education, the nipples of sperm whales are inverted so their calves need only swim near the cavity and nudge to feed on the go. This is an easier alternative to latching, which is difficult considering the shape of young whales’ mouths.
“In a way, nursing underwater is therefore similar to nursing above water: the baby stimulates the mammary glands to eject milk, and then it drinks the milk,” writes Jessica Carilli. “However, the mechanism for stimulating the milk ejection reflex must be somewhat different – in humans the babies create a seal and suction on the nipple stimulates the reflex. In whales and dolphins, it seems that the reflex is likely stimulated when the babies bump the mammary glands; for example, milk ejection was also observed in Beluga whales bumping into the bottom of a tank.”
The Moscow-based photographer was amazed, and rightfully so. It’s rare humans witness this tender ritual between such massive creatures, let alone capture it on camera.
“It was big honor for me to be there and so close in that private moment of whale’s life,” Korostelev said.
Sperm whale pods can comprise as many as 20 females and their offspring, which eat quite a lot during their first few years of life. According to North American Nature, “Depending on the species of the whale, the calves require plenty of milk for them to grow and stay healthy. Generally, a young calf can consume milk that is approximately 10 percent of its body weight. The blue whale is the largest of the whale species. Females can produce over 200 liters of milk in a single day.”
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