On top of avoiding hunters, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, and pollution, the female population of humpback whales apparently has something else to contend with… sexual harassment. Dr. Alison Craig, a marine mammal scientist from Edinburgh Napier University, is the WYSK behind this head scratchingly fascinating discovery.
First thing first, you should know that humpback whales have complicated “courtship” behaviors. Often, many males will surround a single female hitting each other in a competition to get close to her and, well… be the seed planting victor.
In wham-bam-thank-you ma’am style, once they mate, there are no long-term social bonds between male and female whales.
Females become pregnant about every two to four years, and are pregnant with each calf for about 11 to 12 months. The calves can grow 0.5 meters (1.6 feet) per month (and you thought your baby’s growth spurt was impressive), while nursing on their mother’s rich milk. Females nurse their newborn calves in warm, shallow water.
This habit of nursing in shallow water is what Dr. Craig and her colleagues, Prof. Louis Herman and Dr. Adam Pack from the University of Hawaii and The Dolphin Institute, were looking at while studying humpback whales around the Hawaiian Islands. In the first systematic investigation of its kind, they wanted to know if proud mama humpbacks head to calmer waters to avoid unwanted attention from their relentless male humpback suitors rather than to avoid predators, in general?
Here’s what Dr. Craig and her team found, according to a BBC report:
Females with a calf were often pursued by males in deeper waters. This unwanted male attention, meant the mother and calf had to increase their swimming speed by 75% (sheesh!). To handle that kind of turbo boost speed, mothers need to supply their calves with more milk to compensate for the extra energy they’ve used. As water depth decreased so did the number of males following the mother, making females more likely to be found alone with their calves in the shallows.
The conclusion… avoiding males helped the females save energy needed for feeding calves, helping them to survive.
Good decision humpback mamas!
About This Contributor
The newest, hairiest, and most adorable contributor to the Women You Should Know team, Peachu is a 1 year old blue cream tortie who covers WYSKy news from the Animal Kingdom for us. She loves naps, stretching, naps, canned pumpkin, naps, socks, and more naps. Her unique talent is her innate ability to melt the heart of anyone who meets her. As such, she was just chosen as one of Entrepreneur’s Top 25 Cutest/Hardest Working Office Pets.