The reproductive cycle of whales begins during the winter months when they leave the feeding grounds for the warmer waters of the breeding grounds. First, males or bulls court the females or cows by singing, showing off their swimming skills and fighting each other. However, both males and females mate with several different whales over the breeding season in order to maximize the chances of reproduction.
Female whales carry their young between 10 and 17 months depending on the species. Once it is time to give birth, the females return to the mating or calving grounds. After giving birth, the calves nurse from their mothers up to 2 years, only being weaned once it can find food for itself. Even after it has been weaned, a calf usually stays with its mother for another year or two.
Whales do not reach sexual maturity until they are 8 to 10 years old and sometimes as old as 15 in some species. Sometimes these newly mature whales stay with their original pod, which is made up of family members.Learn more about Marine Mammals