Antarctic Mother’s Day
When it comes to parenting strategies, there is no end of diversity in the animal kingdom. And however different they are, somehow, they all work out.
This Mother’s Day, as we campaign to protect their home, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to celebrate the most amazing mothers in the Antarctic Ocean.
It’s dizzyingly difficult to choose between so many poles-apart parents with such different approaches. There’s the Antarctic krill which lays as many as 10,000 eggs at a time. The Wandering albatross that flies for thousands of miles to reunite with her life-long partner to raise a chick. The penguins who risk life and flipper to nest in safety for their fuzzy babies. And there are the squid and octopus mothers that can literally give their dying breath to see their young safely into the world.
But, for us, the most amazing mum in the Antarctic Ocean has to be the blue whale. And this is her story.
Female blue whales are the biggest animals that have ever lived, yet those in the Southern Hemisphere depend on tiny Antarctic krill to survive. With a heart as big as an adult gorilla, and the ability to swallow half a million calories in a single mouthful, these gentle giants are truly astonishing animals in almost every way.
For us though, it is their devotion to their big blubbery babies that is second to none. To keep their young ones safe, the mama blue whale will travel thousands of miles to sheltered tropical waters, which are safer, to give birth and nurse their calf.
The problem is, there is little for whales to eat in these breeding sanctuaries, so the mother starves herself when she’s giving birth and looking after the new baby.
Blue whales are already about eight metres long, and weigh about four tonnes when they are born. They suckle milk from their mother like all mammals do. To feed the newborn, the mother turns some of her own blubber reserves into fatty milk so rich that the baby can gain 90 kilograms in a single day.
This is an enormous physical stress on the already-starving mother whale, but it’s a successful strategy for them, as long as they can replenish that blubber when they need to.
When the time comes to leave the safety of the breeding ground, the whale travels with her baby to the Antarctic Ocean – to fill up and feast on massive swarms of calorific krill. Along the way she has to swim slowly, so the calf can keep up, and be wary of marauding pods of killer whales she might need to fend off.
All of this while she is basically starving, and becoming more and more weak.
The mammoth journey could be as long as 5,000 kilometres each way and last for four months, so getting to the krill-rich Antarctic feeding grounds uses up the very last of her strength.
But, eventually, she’s made it! She and her baby can now gorge themselves on delicious krill, allowing the youngster to grow even bigger and stronger – and the mother to replenish her strength and blubber reserves. They will spend the Antarctic summer feeding, growing and recovering.
Mama blue whale has the biggest heart on the planet, and her devotion to keep her baby safe crosses entire oceans.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Help us protect the Antarctic.