Whale Reproduction 101: Do Whales Give Live Birth?

do whales give live birth

Sharing is caring!

There’s nothing more heartwarming than seeing a mother whale swimming with its newly born calf, it certainly helps put life into perspective and can bring upon a feeling of gratefulness for our planet.

But there are still many people unsure about how whales actually give birth, and find themselves wondering “do whales give live birth?“.

The short answer to this is YES, whales do give live birth. They are marine mammals that nurture and protect their calf inside of them until their calf is ready to be born.

The ocean can be a dangerous place, even for the largest animals on earth. Therefore, live births give whales the highest chance of survival until they are big enough to fend for themselves.

Let’s dive in…

Do Whales Give Live Birth Or Lay Eggs?

Whales have live births and DO NOT lay eggs. Mother whales carry their offspring in the womb until the calf is ready to be born.

During pregnancy, whale embryos are fed by the placenta which receives nutrients from the mother’s bloodstream to keep the calf nourished.

These ocean giants are typically in the gestation period for between 10 – 18 months depending on the species, then once ready, the mother will give live birth to her calf.

Whale calves can be big, especially in the larger whale species. Blue whale calves can be around 23 feet in length and weigh a whopping 5,000 to 6,000 pounds at birth!

Even at this size, most whale calves rely on the nursing of their mother for between 1 – 2 years before they are ready to take on the ocean alone.

Mother whales produce milk that has a high concentration of fat in order to keep their calf fed, warm, and growing at a fast rate.

How Do Whales Have Babies?

Many species of whale begin the journey of producing offspring by making migrations often thousands of miles away from their feeding grounds to their mating grounds.

Some species will fast and not eat anything for the entire journey which can sometimes last several months.

Thousands of whales will make their way to the Arctic regions in the summer months where the males will begin battling it out for the right to mate with a female.

Males compete with one another in a number of ways, from vocalizing their desire to mate with what’s commonly known as “whale songs” to performing acrobats such as breaching, lunging, and leaping out of the ocean.

Once a male establishes his dominance and mates with a female, other males may still battle it out with one another for the chance to mate with the same female.

Many species of whales are not monogamous and females will mate with multiple males in a single season for the chance to produce offspring.

When the mating season comes to a close, the whales will make their long journey back to their feeding grounds where they replenish their energy stores.

The female then begins the gestation period, which is surprisingly long in many species of whale and can last as long as 18 months.

After the calf is born, the baby whale will stay with its mother for usually around 2 years, feeding on the rich milk that is produced by its mother.

This milk is incredibly high in fat content and allows the calf to grow big and strong very quickly.

Nursing blue whales can grow as much as 90kg (200lbs) every single day whilst nursing, with other species such as the gray whale doubling their body weight every two to three months.

How Many Babies Do Whales Have?

Most whale species give birth to a single calf every two to four years. Whilst it is possible for whales to have twins, it’s incredibly rare and reduces the chance of the calves surviving.

The third largest whale species on earth, the Sei whale, has the highest rate of multiple births out of any cetaceans at 1.09%.

The sad thing is, if twins are conceived they are unlikely to survive to full term. This is due to the limited supply of milk that can be provided by the mother.

Where Do Whales Give Birth From?

Just like other mammals, female whales have two ovaries, a uterus, a vagina, and during the gestation period a placenta.

Whale calves are born underwater and come out tail first, once born, the calf will quickly make its way to the surface for air under the close supervision of Mum.

Mother whales are incredibly protective of their calves and will keep them close at all times. Many whale species such as the humpback have been observed protecting other animals too.

Where Do Whales Go To Give Birth?

Baja California is a hotspot for whales giving birth. Blue whales, humpbacks, fin whales, sperm whales, gray whales, and many more go here to give birth.

The warm lagoons of Baja are the perfect breeding grounds for whales. Once the icy Arctic waters begin to freeze over and their food source dries up, Baja is the next stop for whales.

The long journey south to the lagoons begins where whales can look forward to nutrient-rich, warmer waters and an abundance of small plankton to feed on.

Baja California is one of the best places in the world to see whales, with many whale-watching tours taking place here.

It’s the only place in the world where many whales feel so comfortable that some species such as the gray whales will swim up to boats to be kissed, hugged, petted, and stroked by humans!

Final Thoughts

The whale reproduction process is fascinating, and whilst these animals look very different from us, they are mammals, and therefore how they bring life into the world is not too different from us humans.

Whales give live birth to a single calf usually once every two to four years depending on the species.

Mother whales will nurse their calf for up to two years, feeding it milk that is rich in fat and nutrients, allowing the calf to grow extremely quickly.

Once the calf matures, it will take on the big blue ocean alone, foraging for its own food and avoiding predators where it can.

Whales reach sexual maturity between seven to sixteen years of age, and then the process repeats itself over and over.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about how whales give birth, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and have learned something new today.

Until next time.