Nursing and weaning periods are poorly understood in cetaceans due to the difficulty of assessing underwater behaviour in the wild. However, the onset and completion of weaning are critical turning points for individual development and survival, with implications for a species' life history including reproductive potential. d15N and d13C deposited in odontocete teeth annuli provide a lifetime record of diet, offering an opportunity to investigate variation and trends in fundamental biology. While available reproductive parameters for beaked whales have largely been inferred from single records of stranded or hunted animals and extrapolated across species, here we examine the weaning strategy and nursing duration in northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) by measuring stable isotopes deposited in dentine growth layer groups (GLGs). Using a collection of H. ampullatus teeth taken from whales killed during the whaling era (N = 48) and from two stranded specimens, we compared ontogenetic variation of d15N and d13C found in annual GLGs across all individuals, by sex and by region. We detected age-based trends in both d15N and d13C that are consistent across regions and males and females, and indicate that nursing is prolonged and weaning does not conclude until whales are 3-4 years old, substantially later than previous estimates of 1 year. Incorporating a prolonged period of maternal care into H. ampullatus life history significantly reduces their reproductive potential, with broad implications for models of beaked whale life history, energetics and the species' recovery from whaling.