Here's the first ever footage of a baby sperm whale nursing from its mother

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.


Most whale and dolphin babies nudge the mammary slit to expose the nipple, allowing them to "suckle." A sperm whale baby's head and mouth aren't really designed for suckling in the traditional sense, obviously, as its massive nose protrudes over its much smaller lower jaw. But even in the whale sense of mom shooting milk into a baby's mouth, it's been unclear how it works for sperm whales due to their oddly shaped heads. Photos and observations have led researchers to believe that the mother whale expresses milk into the water for the baby to ingests outside of her body, but the real mechanics haven't been clearly understood.

With the proliferation of underwater photography and filmography, it may seem strange that we don't have more nursing whale evidence to examine, but because baby whales can't breathe and nurse at the same time, nursing events are usually quite short. Even being in the right place at the right time to observe a whale nursing is rare, much less capturing it on film.

A new four-part documentary series from National Geographic has provided, for the first time, film footage of a sperm whale baby nursing. It shows how the baby actually inserting its lower jaw into the mother's mammary slit, and the milk—which contains ten times more fat than human milk and is the consistency of yogurt—shooting directly into the baby whale's mouth.

Sperm Whale Suckles | National Geographic www.youtube.com

The documentary series containing this footage, "Secrets of the Whales," was conceived of by National Geographic Explorer and photographer Brian Skerry and follows the stories of five different whale species—narwhals, humpbacks, belugas, sperm whales, and orcas. It was filmed in 24 locations around the world and took three years to make. Produced by award-winning filmmaker and conservationist James Cameron (of "Titanic" and "Avatar" fame) and narrated by award-winning actress and conservationist Sigourney Weaver, the series is sure to please whale lovers and nature lovers alike.

In addition to sperm whale babies breastfeeding, the docuseries shows how beluga whales name themselves so groups can keep track of each other, how baby belugas share their moms' call signs, how 30,000 humpbacks travel together from Australia to Antarctica and use breeches to talk to each other, and how a beluga pod adopted a narwhal into their bod—apparently the first ever cross-species adoption ever recorded.

Executive Producer James Cameron called the series a "challenging, daunting project" in a SXSW Conference panel last month."It's also so important for people to understand and for this film to illuminate how these creatures think, how they feel, what their emotion is like, what their society is like," he said, "because we won't protect what we don't love."

The series premiers on streaming service Disney+ on Earth Day, April 22.

Secrets of the Whales | Official Trailer | Disney+ www.youtube.com

The filmmakers hope that by sharing with people the unique identities of the whales they followed, they can inspire people to think about how these magnificent mammals can be better protected.

"It's inescapable that they're being poisoned by us, that they're being deafened by us, or their behaviors, all of their feeding strategies and mating strategies and reproductive strategies are being dismantled by all of this noise from shipping channels and military sonars and all that," Cameron said. "They're going to continue to decline. The right whales are down to about 300…We barely understand these animals, so I think we have to, as a society, we have to think about doing it better."

Indeed we do.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

Keep Reading Show less
Joy

10 things that made us smile this week

Upworthy's weekly roundup of joy.

From magical musical masterpieces to awesome animal awwww moments, here's this week's roundup of delight.

Last week's 10 things that made us smile post included a disproportionate number of dogs, and this week's post includes an unusual amount of music. Not sure how these things happen exactly, but I'm gonna go ahead and blame The Algorithm.

I love music. How could anyone not love music? Humans have made music since time immemorial, in every culture around the world. Few things unite people like music can, without having to speak one another's languages, without having to say a word. We hear a well-performed piece of music and we are transformed, like magic.

In this week's list, we have music being played and enjoyed by young and old as a reminder of the wonderful things humans can create. We need that reminder in the face of destruction that we are builders of beauty when we choose to be.

Keep Reading Show less
via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

Keep Reading Show less