Whales are marine mammals and like all mammals (with the exception of a few species) share many of the same traits with land mammals including baring offspring, being warm-blooded, having hair (some species are born with hair) and producing milk.
The thickness of a whales milk can vary greatly.
35% – 50% fat consistency is common amongst many species of whale as the high fat percentage allows the whales milk to travel through the water without breaking up.
The milk is often referred to as having a toothpaste like consistency.
This is very important because in order for the adult female whale to feed her baby she must either shoot the milk into her baby’s mouth through the water or allow the child to suckle on her nipple.
If the fat consistency is too low than the mother’s milk would dissolve in the water making it difficult for the baby whale to feed and receive adequate nutrients.
A few species of whale (such as the blue whale) may drink in excess of 50 gallons of milk per day and can easily gain 100 pounds or more each day in its first few months primarily from drinking its mother’s milk.
In terms of how long a baby whale may feed on its mother’s milk the length of nursing can vary greatly anywhere from 6 months – 2 years depending on the whales species.
Birth, nursing and relationships
Females may mate with several males during a single season and will typically produce a single offspring (twins are very rare) once every 1 - 5 years depending on the species.
This ensures that the newborn will stand a better chance of survival and be given full attention during the first nurturing years of its life.
In addition to feeding their young, mothers often develop very close relationships with their children.
These relationships may last anywhere from a few years to a lifetime depending on the species of whale being raised.
In some tightly knit pods or groups females other than the mother may also care for the mother’s child.
Within a family group the male whales are known as bulls, females are called cows and newborns are calves.