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How Do Baby Gray Whales Learn to Eat?

You don't remember, but as a baby you had to learn how to eat solid foods in addition to milk. Do whale babies need to do that too? How do baby gray whales learn to eat? 

Baby gray whale shows baleen.
Image:Renee Bonner

Nature and Nurture
"It's kind of the 'nature versus nurture' question," states marine biologist Kim Shelden of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory. "I think some feeding behaviors are instinctive (nature)—but to actually find prey would be something learned over time as the calf travels with its mother (nurture) to feeding areas in Alaska. Young animals often have odd items in their stomachs. For example, we see young seals with kelp, rocks, and other non-food items in their stomachs. It probably takes a bit of learning to know what to eat and how to catch it."

How Do Scientists Know?
It's not easy for scientists to study how a baby whale learns to eat. They don't know everything, but how can they learn more? These are some ways:

Still, scientists wonder. How can they learn more? New knowledge may be found in your lifetime. Maybe YOU will take the challenge to explore the answers as a marine biologist!  


Journal

  • What questions do you have? How would you investigate in the hope of finding new information?  

 

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