Humpback Whales Mating Near Maui, Hawaii Photographed for the First Time; Both Animals Were Male

Humpback whales (both male) mating near Maui, Hawaii, were photographed for the first time, according to recent reports. Although same-sex behavior has captivated the minds of scientists for decades, this is the first instance that scientists made a visual documentation of the marine mammals having penetrative sex.

Findings of the bizarre event, which occurred two years ago, were revealed by a new study published earlier this week.

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) can be found in all of the world’s oceans, where they travel great distances every year. Their species have one of the longest migration track records of any mammal on Earth. In addition, some populations swim thousands of miles hailing from breeding grounds in the tropics to colder environments where they feed, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Male Humpback Whales Mating

Humpback Whales Mating Near Maui, Hawaii Photographed for the First Time; Both Animals Were Male
(Photo : Photo by Swanson Chan on Unsplash)

Photos of the two male humpback whales mating in the waters of the Pacific Ocean near Maui was published in the journal Marine Mammal Science on Tuesday, February 27. In the new research paper, author Stephanie Stack from the Pacific Whale Foundation, along with two photographers, Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano, documented the same-sex behavior between the two giant marine animals.

Based on the study, reports of “penis extrusion” by male humpback whales are relatively rare despite decades of research about the animals. The discovery confirms previous evidence that some animals engage in the behavior other than the functions of reproduction.

Furthermore, the findings of the research paper also acknowledge previous evidence that homosexual behavior is common across the animal kingdom.

The photos of the two whales show one of them is healthy and strong, while the other appears to be injured or unhealthy, according to the paper. The February 2024 report described the healthy whale “pursuing” the other individual while circling the vessel of Stack, a marine biologist. The encounter took place specifically west of the island of Maui back in January 2022.

In the past, scientists have also observed similar behavior across the animal world.

Also Read: It’s in the Genes: Why Same-Sex Sexual Behavior is Pervasive in Animals

Animal Same-Sex Behavior

The recent Marine Mammal Science study noted that animal same-sex behavior was previously observed in Amazon river dolphins, grey seals, and walruses. In a separate study published in the journal Nature Communications in October 2023, scientists explored the evolution of the said behavior in mammals; stating the subject matter also caught the attention of different fields, ranging from sociology to psychology and evolutionary biology.

Researchers in the 2023 study cited current data, showing animal same-sex behavior is not randomly distributed across lineages of mammals. However, it is prevalent in some clades, particularly primates, which include humans.

Previous evidence also shows that mating among animals is not only confined for reproduction, as mentioned earlier.

In the case of humpback whales, they reach sexual maturity between the ages of 4 and 10 years, with female members of the species producing a single calf every 2 to 3 years on average, according to the NOAA Fisheries.

Related Article: Sexual Segregation and Homosexuality in Animal Species

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