Finally, a whale story with a happy ending

Written by on December 23, 2012 in Marine Life


Right whale mother and calf.

Right whale mother and calf. Photo Credit: NOAA

African Wings, a South African tour company that uses planes to watch right whales, has recently documented a rare event in the right whale community. A southern right whale mother, already caring for her own calf, adopted an orphaned calf that was previously been left all alone.

Mother’s typically do not accept orphan calves if they already have their own as caring for one is challenging enough on its own.

African Wings first saw three cow/calf pairs and one calf on its own as they were flying over Walker Bay. When they returned to check, they found only the single calf and one cow/calf pair.

The first time the orphaned calf attempted to nurse, the mother “was trying to swim away from the calf but it was probably starving and doing its utmost to drink from her,” stated Evan Austin, co-founder of African Wings. “She was vainly trying to beat it away with her tail and rolling and turning in the water, but the little guy was desperate to drink and would not give up.”

Then, a few days later the crew saw both calves nursing from the mother. “Both calves look healthy and the mother does not look too thin so there is a chance that all may end well,” Austin continued.

Yesterday, the mother and calves were nowhere to be seen. Austin wrote that “It is a good sign that we did not find the orphan as he is probably with the missing mother and calf or following them.”

He speculates that the orphaned calf is still too young to make the month-long journey to Antarctic waters (southern right whale feeding grounds) so we will probably hear about this unique family at least one more time.

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Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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