Reproduction is serious business for male humpback whales on their winter breeding grounds. The males migrate thousands of miles and fast for several months just to have the opportunity to mate. When a receptive female makes herself available she attracts a great deal of attention, leading to heated competition for her affection.
A receptive female will first acquire a primary escort, which is a male whale hoping to mate. If another male whale imposes himself upon the pair, he is known as a challenger. When there is more than one challenger it is the beginning of a competitive or “rowdy” group, with each male whale vying for the coveted position at the female’s side.
Typical rowdy groups consist of 3-6 males but groups as large as two dozen whales can been seen on the Silver Bank. The pace of the action is set by the female and the competition can cover many miles and last for many hours as the whales jostle for position.
The competition can be very physical, with males pushing or ramming with their rostrums, striking with the “anvil” on the bottom of their chin, using flukes and pectoral fins to strike each other, snapping jaws to intimidate, performing peduncle throws, lunges and breaches, and even trying to hold each other underwater to impair breathing to tire the opponent. Injuries can result, typically heavy scratches from barnacles on the chin and fins, rostrum tubercles and dorsal fins rubbed raw and bloody or even broken off, and dorsal fins bloodied or mangled.
Being among a group of rowdy forty foot humpback whales in a twenty five foot boat is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have on the Silver Bank without getting in the water!