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Humpback Calves


Spring in Newcastle is a baby BOOM! During September and October, humpback mothers and their calves head south after spending much of the last couple of months up in the warm waters of Tropical North Queensland. Now on their way to Antarctica, mothers and calves make the enormous 5000km journey south for the summertime. Here are some of the reasons we love humpback whale calves! Cover photo – @cainedelacy


Compared to other animals, whales are in an entire league of their own. Humpback whale calves are usually born between one and two tonnes. Now that’s a huge baby! But it doesn’t stop there, they feed heavily on their mother’s milk to grow and get stronger rapidly after they’re born.

A humpback whale calf breaches with Newcastle NSW in the background

Milk, Milk and more Milk

Calves drink their others milk immediately to survive. It’s extremely high in fat (up to 50% fat) to help the calf develop quickly. A humpback mother’s milk is very thick, like toothpaste. Humpback whale calves reportedly drink several hundred litres of milk per day from their mother.

A new humpback whale calf with water spraying from it's blowhole

How they Feed

Just like humans babies, humpback calves can be demanding for their food too. They’ll nudge their mother’s mammary slits (which are a fold of skin to keep the whale hydrodynamic), and the mother will express milk into the calf’s mouth. It doesn’t necessarily latch onto its mother like other baby mammals do.

A humpback whale calf coming out of the water

Their Playful Behaviour

Charged up on mum’s milk, we often observe humpback whale calves breaching and slapping their fluke (tail) or pectoral fins on the water. It appears as though they’re very playful, often interacting with other animals such as dolphins and seals on their journey south.

Humpback Calves

Bond with their Mum

Calves have an incredibly strong bond with their mother. When they’re born, they’re entirely dependent on their mother to survive. Most calves are weaned in their first autumn, and few stay together right through their second migration. Until they’re weaned, calves communicate with their mothers using a series of soft, squeaky calls. These vocalisations are what maintain that strong bond with their mother.

A mother and calf southern right whale coming up to breath

Conservation and Research

Historically, humpback whales migrate north to calve in the warm waters of Tropical North Queensland. The core calving area is off Mackay inside the reef, and Hervey Bay is an important resting area. Anecdotally we have observed (as many have) calves being born further and further south (including in New South Wales). CoastXP is currently contributing to a research study looking into this behaviour. Human-factors such as shark nets and Orcas/Killer whales are some of the greatest threats affecting a young humpback’s start at life.

A Newborn humpback whale breaking the waters surface

Join a CoastXP on a Whale Encounter Tour or Whale Discovery Tour for your chance to see a humpback whale mother and calf throughout September and October each year!