Allosuckling in southern right whale calves

Kate Sprogis, Fredrik Christiansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Allosuckling, the suckling of milk from a non-biological mother, occurs in some species of mammals. Allosuckling has not been quantified in baleen whale calves; therefore, we examine allosuckling in southern right whales (SRWs; Eubalaena australis) off Australia. SRWs are listed as Endangered under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act as their numbers remain below the estimated historical abundance. On a small aggregation area, where there were three mother–calf pairs present, we aimed to quantify the proportion of time that calves allosuckled relative to the time spent filial suckling. To achieve this, we conducted unmanned aerial vehicle focal follows on mother–calf pairs and video recorded all interactions among pairs (n = 22 interactions, 3 h total observation time). During interactions, allosuckling occurred in seven interactions, and filial nursing occurred in 11 interactions. One of the calves performed allosuckling, and it was the largest calf with the largest mother. The calf allosuckled from both of the non-biological mothers present. The average proportion of time allosuckling per interaction was 4% (95% CI = ± 0.01, range = 0–0.25), whilst filial nursing for the same calf was 8% (95% CI = ± 0.02, range = 0–0.37). It is important to understand the frequency of allosuckling, and to quantify the energetic benefits for allosuckling calves and the energetic cost incurred by targeted non-biological mothers. This is particularly pertinent for capital breeders who do not replenish lost energy reserves until they migrate to their feeding grounds. © 2024, The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-99
Number of pages9
JournalMammalian Biology
Issue number1
Early online dateJan 2024
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


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