Whale researcher Andrew Stevenson captured photos of four male humpback whales fighting over a female on Monday [Jan.23], with the ocean love fest taking place approximately 25 miles off Bermuda in deep waters.
Mr Stevenson said it was the first time he has witnessed humpback mating behaviour entirely consistent with courting humpbacks he has observed numerous times in the Caribbean and Hawaii.
“This wasn’t the idle kind of ‘flirting’ we have seen in the past. This was the real, hardcore thing,” noted Mr Stevenson.
“The engine was turned off through most of this and the whales kept returning to the boat so that we were given front row seats. At times the boat rocked with the swell of water created by the upwelling from flukes of the whales fighting below us.
“I have no doubt that these whales were seriously attempting to mate with the female. The timing is right and if the female does mate, she would give birth some 11 months later,” said Mr Stevenson.
The male escort cuts off would-be suitors by ramming them:
Visible is the raw, pink tubercules on the whale’s jaw from head butting his opponents:
A sudden stop to whack a pursuer on the head with the fluke:
To gain the attention of the males, the female lay on her side or back and whacked the water with her pectoral fins:
Using the head to butt the fluke of the whale in front:
“These were all very large whales and the exertion was plain from the trumpeting and heavy breathing and the frequency with which they surfaced to breathe. This was mayhem with whales careening around avoiding or attacking one another,” said Mr Stevenson.
“Inexplicably, in the midst of this war off attrition, eight Cuvier beaked whales appeared in the midst of the humpbacks,” said Mr Stevenson.
“At first we thought they were dolphins riding the pressure wave of the humpbacks, such as we have witnessed before. On closer inspection we could see they were too big to be dolphins. These Cuviers were in the middle of the ocean. Why did they surface in the midst of dueling humpbacks? Curious?”
[Photos courtesy of WhalesBermuda.com]