Dolphins are undoubtedly some of the smartest animals that inhabit our oceans.
With 40% more cerebral cortex than a human brain, these animals are capable of problem-solving, play, and have highly sophisticated social structures.
They are one of the very few animals that alongside humans mate for pleasure, and they do so 365 days per year with no specific breeding season.
Today, we’re going to take a look at dolphin parenting and answer a question that many dolphin lovers are eager to learn the answer to. Do dolphins nurse their young?
Yes, dolphins will nurse their calves for between one to three years and the youngsters will get all of the nutrients they need from brief nursing sessions with their mothers.
Do Dolphins Really Nurse Their Young?
In all dolphin species, calves are born without the skills to be able to fend for themselves. In fact, the mortality rate of dolphin calves is 50 percent in the first year.
However, as you already know these animals are incredibly intelligent, and dolphin calves mirror exactly what their mother does and learns these skills quickly.
Dolphin mothers nurse their young typically for between 1 and 3 years, showing their calves how to survive in the ocean as well as hunting techniques.
However, some dolphins have been known to nurse their young for up to ten years after birth, learning everything they need to know about dolphin life.
Young dolphins quite literally become their mother’s shadow, mirroring their every move until they get to grips with life under the ocean.
Once they do so and learn the necessary skills needed to survive, they set off on their own or perhaps find a pod to hunt with.
Do Dolphins Nurse With Milk?
Yes, dolphins do nurse their young with milk. Dolphin milk is incredibly thick due high-fat content which can reach 108 to 180mg per liter.
This milk contains everything that is needed for dolphin calves to grow quickly, giving them the best possible chance of survival whilst they are young.
Guided by their mother, dolphin calves will also begin to eat some small fish when they reach a few months old.
In Australia, species such as bottlenose dolphins have been observed eating small fish by the age of 4 to 5 months old.
They are still very much dependent on their mother’s milk at this age but are also learning important techniques to catch their own fish.
Over time, calves will transition from a diet of milk to a diet of fish, this process usually takes between 2 to 3 years.
How Do Dolphins Feed Their Young Ones?
Dolphins feed their young just like many other mammals. They have teats just under a female’s two mammary slits.
The calf then places its beak onto the teat, slightly ajar, and forms a cone with its tongue which then grips the teat.
From there the mother has voluntary control or milk ejection and can begin to secrete milk from her teat to feed her young.
Generally, dolphin calves feed from their mother every 20 minutes or so, 24 hours per day. This slows down as the calf grows older and starts implementing fish into its diet.
Mum is required to ensure she is feeding up well to ensure she can produce enough milk for her calf.
It’s a good job dolphins rarely have twins as finding enough food to sustain two calves can be difficult for many dolphins.
How Often Do Dolphins Have Calves?
Dolphins usually give birth to one calf every one to six years depending on the species and individual animal.
This allows them to mother their calf to the best of their ability and gives the calf a fighting chance of survival as the mother’s attention is not split.
The average time between babies for bottlenose dolphins is between 2 to 3 years, but Orcas only have calves every five years or more.
There are also no specific breeding seasons for dolphins as there are with whales, they breed 365 days a year and even do so for their own enjoyment.
Whilst the birth of dolphin calves can occur in all seasons, they typically peak during spring, early summer, and fall.
Dolphin Mammary Slits
Dolphins have two mammary slits on their underside which have an inverted nipple inside, however, the nipples are not the same as land mammals that have protruding nipples.
Instead, dolphin nipples are enclosed within a fold of skin known as mammary slits.
Dolphin calves do not have the luxury of feeding whenever they want as land mammals do, instead, when they are hungry they will nudge the mammary slit, indicating to the mother that they are ready to feed.
Once this happens the mammary slit is stimulated which releases the nipple. Mum is then in control of how much milk is released into the nipples which are also different from land mammals.
The calf’s tongue curls into a “u” shape which locks onto the nipples ensuring that no previous milk is lost in the ocean.
So, do dolphins nurse their young? Absolutely. Dolphins nurse their young for typically between 2 to 3 years, but some calves don’t leave their mothers until they are 10 years old.
Dolphin calves follow their mothers everywhere in order to learn the vital skills they need to survive in the ocean.
Hunting techniques are passed down through generations and must be learned and executed before a dolphin calf can go it alone.
Mothers secrete milk from their teats which is rich in fat and minerals in order to help give the dolphin calves the strength they need to grow quickly.
Hopefully, you’ve learned something new today about dolphins nursing their young and how they do so.
Until next time.
Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years. I’ve spent over a decade in the marine wildlife industry and spent years out in the field conducting research. In today’s modern world, an online blog is the best place for me to share my findings and reach as many people as possible to help educate and inspire others. Enjoy your time here and you’re welcome back anytime!