Earlier this week, flying drone footage captured a spectacular sight of what appears to be a mother pigmy blue whale nursing her calf off the western coast of New Zealand.
Leigh Torres, a marine ecologist who had been tracking the pair since Feb 5, decided to make the switch to drone surveillance in order to not frighten the rare whales.
She did not however, expect to observe such a rare occurrence, especially in the wild.
Speaking to National Geographic, Torres was elated at having been witness to such an astonishing event.
“We had no idea they were [likely nursing] when we saw them from the vessel,” says Torres. “But from the overhead perspective we could clearly see this coordinated behaviour between mother and calf. It was beautiful to see.”
Although the National Geographic explorer and marine ecologist, couldn’t be sure that the act was in fact, nursing, if her assumptions are correct, this would make it the first known footage of nursing in blue whales.
Unlike land mammals, the animals’ nursing habits are somewhat of a mystery. According to National Geographic, “precisely how calves can access the milk is unknown, but Torres says it is likely some combination of the mother flexing her abdominal muscles to expose the nipple and then squirting the milk into her baby’s mouth (they don’t have the flexible lips for suckling that many land mammals posses).
Blue whales nurse for five to seven months, and according to Torres the baby in the video could be between four-six months old – which makes the footage even more exciting.
Torres explained that her research trip provided a positive insight into the survival of the species.
“Seeing nursing activity and a number of pairs shows us that this population is reproducing and that this is an important area for moms to come and raise their young,” says Torres.
Torres hopes to return to New Zealand soon to continue studying the whales. “The area needs to be managed appropriately in terms of protection of blue whales and their habitat,” she adds.