Wild Moms


Parenting trends come and go, but these moms have such a unique and solid system that it’s been working out for their respective species for thousands of years.


Manatees are one of the most celebrated mothers of the marine world. There are countless images and videos of a big ol’ sea potato and her tiny little sea spud always staying close together. While oftentimes manatees can swim immediately after being born, sometimes they struggle to get the movement down. The mother manatee will swim under her young to support it while it figures out the muscle mechanics of swimming. 

The gestation period for mama manatees is around 13 months, usually carrying just one calf at a time. After that, the calf stays with the mother for up to two years nursing from just under her pectoral flippers (armpit area) for about a year until it can feed on vegetation just like her. The calf also watches the mother’s habits and learns about survival and herd socialization from her. 

During their time together, the mother is incredibly protective of her calf. Calves are quite curious about the world around them and, like human babies, will stumble around the world trying to eat random things and possibly getting into dangerous situations. Mama manatee is there to ensure the survival of their young. The only time a mother will leave her calf is if she is gravely injured or ill.

Humpback Whale

Much like manatees, humpback whales' mother/calf connection is quite close and well known.  The mother will travel quite a long way to give birth in warm waters, which is ideal considering the calf is born without blubber to keep it warm. The mother carries the calf for around 11 months before the calf is born, the calf weighing in around 3 US tons and at least 12 to 15 feet long. After that they’ll spend at least a year together. While they swim close together, they can often be seen using physical touch as a form of affection. They have even been observed whispering to each other, keeping their voices low to avoid being heard by male humpbacks looking to mate with the mother or orcas looking for quick and easy prey. After their year of togetherness, the calf will move on, often staying in the same region as the mother, and it will be a few more years before the mother possibly gives birth again.


There can be a distinguishable difference in shark reproduction depending on shark species. Some shark species lay eggs while others give birth to fully developed baby sharks. Some sharks will perform a mating dance while others will travel long distances to find a mate. Some sharks give birth to a large litter while others give birth to a single baby shark. Convinced that shark reproduction is fascinating? Let us enlighten you further.

Shark gestation periods generally range from 5 months to 3 years, while most sharks take about 12 months to develop before coming into the world. Some sharks host their young much like humans, with an umbilical cord for nutritional support. Other shark moms will place their eggs in a leathery pouch, put it in a safe space for the pups to develop, and sometimes even stay behind to guard their eggs until they are hatched. Some sharks have a combination of these two mentioned above, where they will host the eggs inside them but won’t be attached via umbilical cord. Rather, the growing shark pups feed on their egg’s yolk supply. 

Mostly, mother sharks ensure that their pups are born in a safe place. This is often somewhere that is generally shallow and warm with plenty of hiding spaces for the pup, think mangrove areas. They then leave and let the pup figure out life on its own. The shark pup will likely spend around four years in the nursery, until it is ready to take on the vastness of the open ocean.


You may think that octopuses likely read The Bell Jar before taking on parenthood. This is one of the saddest mother-child relationships we see in the animal kingdom, but this is simply part of their process. After a female octopus mates, she guards her eggs and circulates water around them to keep them oxygenated. After a while, she unfortunately begins to starve while caring for her eggs, tearing away her own skin, and eating her own arms. Researchers seem to think that the optic glands are responsible for this behavior, as they govern her hormones. After she lays her eggs, these hormones get imbalanced, causing her disturbing self-destruction before her children can be born. But even in her toughest moments, her number one priority is protecting her eggs to ensure they come into the world. 


We will hear NO “ya mama” jokes about our beloved anglerfish. She is a beast in many ways—in how she handles pressure (sorry, that bathypelagic joke went kind of deep), in how she hunts, and in how she mates and reproduces.   

The male anglerfish was mysteriously elusive to researchers for over a century, before researchers finally figured out that the males were much smaller, and have a different physical composition because they don’t hunt. Once the male and female connect, they are “merely an appendage of the female, and entirely dependent on her for nutrition,” Charles Tate Regan stated about the odd discovery. These tiny male anglerfish would latch onto the females and simply feed from her like a parasite. Her pheromones and her bioluminescent lure led the male to her, and after the male bites and latches on, the process of his absorption into her begins. Yes, you read that right. His body fuses with hers, still alive even as he disintegrates into her flesh and blood vessels with just one purpose left in his life—provide her with sperm when the female is ready to spawn. While this absorption is common for many types of anglerfish, other types may only have a brief latching period and the male is free to latch with other mates in its lifetime. 

The young are made through external fertilization, and about once a year the female can release between 300,000 and 2,800,000 eggs in a gelatinous string a few meters long acting as something of a fly trap for the sperm. The young hatch after about 3 weeks and have immediate independence, growing and learning through both intuition and trial and error. 
This wild mom isn't getting any Mom of the Year awards, but the reason for even including the anglerfish is a) how fascinating of a mating process and b) not all motherhood looks the same so we may as well talk about all of it.

Mantis Shrimp

There is no doubt that the mantis shrimp would play the cheeky caterpillar in the underwater version of Alice in Wonderland. She’s colorful, fascinating, and looks like she’s ready to ask you some odd questions while on a side quest. But when it comes to her babies, she plays the role of hyper protective mom. Her claws, usually used for boxing with potential prey, guard her thousands of eggs while they’re in the development stage. During this time she cleans them and makes sure they’re safe. Once they hatch, her young are left to fend for themselves. So, much like the beloved shark mom, our mantis shrimp mom ensures her young arrive alive into the world as best as she can, then leaves them to figure out life on their own.

There are so many more wild moms out there with their own unique parenting techniques, but these few are some that we may just be able to study on our dives out in the wild (except for the anglerfish, of course). So next time you see a mantis shrimp with a bundle of eggs or a manatee with a mini-me version of herself in tow, you’ll know a little bit more about their relationship with each other.


Which marine animal stays with its young the longest? 

Female orcas stay with their mothers their entire lives, simply becoming a part of the family group, or pod. Although the males leave to mate, they also return. Many pods even have multiple generations since orcas live up to 90 years. 

Do all fish lay eggs?

Not all fish lay eggs! Some do lay eggs (oviparous), some retain the eggs in their body until the young hatch (ovoviviparous), and some give birth to live young (viviparous). 

Why do mother octopuses self-destruct?

While the octopus guards her eggs, she does so to the point of starvation. Additionally, scientists have discovered that the optic glands that govern an octopus’s hormones are due to the disturbing behavior.

What is the longest gestation period in the ocean? 

The frilled shark has a gestation period of about three and a half years, the longest of any vertebrate animal.