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Scientists Capture Whale’s First Breath

July 24, 2009

Australian scientists have captured a humpback whale on film helping a newborn calf take what looks like is its first breath, which is a rare event often described as the “Holy Grail” for whale-watchers.

Marine scientists from Western Australia’s Centre for Whale Research said that they watched the event in astonishment as the mother swam below the distressed baby and lifted it above the water, clearing its blowhole to take in air.

“We feel awed and privileged to have finally seen this spectacle after over 20 years of research,” said scientist Curt Jenner.

The researchers said that the water was full of blood, indicating the mother had just given birth on the migration route off Western Australia.  They also said that its first breath instantly revived the “small and skinny” baby. 

“It was apparent that the calf was struggling to stay at the surface to breathe and was swimming around in tight, clockwise circles with only the tip of its snout protruding,” said Jenner’s wife and fellow scientist, Micheline.

“As soon as the cow lowered its newborn back into the water, its little tail flukes began to beat like a wind-up toy being lowered into the bath,” she added.

Humpback whales are some of the biggest of the whale species, growing up to 60 feet long.  They are a mainstay of the whale-watching industry in Australia, which is worth $246 million a year.

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