Two Male Humpback Whales Photographed Having Sex

Photo by Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano.

For the first time ever, Humpback whales were caught humping under the sea - and they were both male.

Photographers in Maui, Hawaii, captured two male humpback whales having sex, according to NBC News. Experts say this is the first time the species have been documented exhibiting sexual activity of any kind.

In a study released Feb. 27 in the journal Marine Mammal Science, the authors said they’ve produced the first photographs of the species having penetrative sex.

The authors were marine biologist Stephanie Stack, and the two photographers who captured the encounter, Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano, in waters west of the Hawaiian island of Maui in January 2022.

“We realized pretty quickly that there was a scientific significance to it,” Krannichfeld, 44, told NBC News. “Even if there were no articles published or nothing ever came of it, we knew that it was important to the scientific community and those who were studying the whales just because of the unique behavior.”

The report stated that the encounter occurred between one male whale who appeared unhealthy or injured, and a strong and healthy male whale. The “bottom” whale was visibly emaciated and covered in whale lice that can proliferate on humpback whales that have lost mobility.

The authors suggested the emaciated whale may have approached the photographers’ friend’s boat to seek cover from the other whale. Krannichfeld said that he and his friends did not go to the whales by boat or get out and swim with them once they approached because both of those things are illegal, according to NBC News.

The emaciated whale, while circling the boat, attempted to swim away from the healthier whale, the report read. The healthier whale then held the other whale in place with its pectoral fins and began to penetrate it.

The authors said that they observed the whales for approximately 30 minutes and that the encounter took place roughly 15 feet below the surface. Whether same-sex behavior between two healthy male humpback whales would occur remains unknown, according to the authors.

When the photographers returned home and looked at the pictures they took, Krannichfeld said they immediately knew they captured “a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.”

“The whales are a big part of our lives here in Maui,” he told NBC News. “Everybody that’s involved with them and who photographs them kind of realizes that that’s never been captured. Mating and birth are the two main things that are still kind of unknown.”

Krannichfeld and Romano shared the photos with Stack, who identified the whales as male. 

Krannichfeld, who owns a photography gallery in Maui, said sharing the photographs with the scientific community was “an honor.”

“I’m constantly taking photos of the whales and essentially making a product off of them,” he told NBC News. “So it’s nice to be able to feel like I’m giving something back to the whales, help people understand them better.”

Same-sex behavior is not uncommon in the animal kingdom. It has been well-documented in other species. The study noted that it has previously been observed in a number of marine mammals, including walruses, Amazon River dolphins and gray seals, according to NBC News.

Penguins have received widespread attention for its same-sex behavior. Over the last several years, gay penguin couples in zoos in Denmark, the Netherlands and the United States have gone viral for taking care of eggs and raising baby penguins together.


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