Whale Beat Up 101: Do Whales Fight?

do whales fight

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Whales are some of the most majestic and beautiful animals on earth. They’re found in every ocean habitat ranging from warm, temperate waters to the icy polar regions.

With over 40 different whale species, they have a vast range of characteristics and all have their own uniqueness that sets them apart from one another.

Some are shy and timid whilst others are incredibly friendly, so what happens when whales don’t see eye to eye?

Well, we’re here today to answer a question that often comes up when discussing whales and their varying personality traits. “Do whales fight?”

YES, whales do fight one another from time to time, however, it’s rare and not something that happens often among whale species. They are excellent communicators that don’t often get physical.

Do Whales Ever Fight?

Whales are no strangers to settling a dispute the old-fashioned way, when needed they will fight with one another to settle disputes.

Some whales are more prone to fighting than others and the reasons for doing so may differ depending on the species.

do whales fight
Image: Robin Summerhill via Flickr

Whales are non-aggressive animals and prefer to avoid conflict where they can, making whale fights a very rare sight among whale watchers.

But sometimes there is no other option than to fight, it’s often an easy way to determine the most dominant individual.

Why Do Whales Fight?

Like all animals, whales have a “fight or flight” response to being attacked, with some individuals more than happy to defend themselves and others avoiding confrontation at all costs.

Some whale species are more confrontational than others, but even these whales don’t fight for the sake of it.

Below are some of the reasons why whales fight:

Breeding season

The most common reason to witness whales fighting is during mating season.

Humpback whales are among the feistiest whales when it comes to a scrap and are not afraid to fight with one another for the right to mate with a female.

During mating season, multiple male humpbacks will battle it out in an often gruesome battle for mating rights, with some even fighting to the death.

A female humpback leads the group with a male escort, and often multiple males are fighting and battling to take the escort’s place.

Defending themselves

Despite the whale’s massive size, they are still attacked by hungry predators on a regular basis. The ocean is a dangerous place even for the largest animals on earth.

Orca and large sharks will happily take a whale snack if they can, often singling out whale calves or the sick and injured for an easy meal.

Whale mothers often find themselves defending not only themselves but their young from predators, but many species are not well equipped to deal with large predators.

They rely mostly on their size to deter predators from making an attack, but nothing will stop a hungry pod of Orca or Great white from feeding.

How Do Whales Fight?

Many whale species are not well armed with the necessary tools for fighting, but their sheer size is enough to make cause serious injury to attackers.

During mating season, humpback charge into one another and “ram” other whales with their large heads.

Whales also have giant flukes that can be as big as 18 feet wide, they thrash their tails at one another hoping for an accurate blow.

Baleen whales such as humpbacks, blues, and gray whales rely heavily on their size and flukes when fighting.

Whereas toothed whales such as sperm whales have teeth that are 10 – 20cm long, allowing them to defend themselves from predators using their jaws and tails.

Killer whales, although technically dolphins use their supreme intelligence and comrades to win fights with large sharks.

There is strength in numbers, that’s why a pod of killer whales is unmatched in the ocean and dominates above any other marine animal.

They are also armed with a set of large, sharp teeth that they use to rip apart their prey.

How Long Do Whale Fights Last?

During mating season, humpbacks fighting one another can last hours on end, sometimes up to 6-hours or more.

This often leads to complete exhaustion and the winner can sometimes be the whale that is last standing.

do whales fight
Image: Boris Johnson via Flickr

When defending from attackers, whales will stand their ground against a pod of Orca for up to 12 hours.

Humpbacks will even defend other animals from a pod of Orca and have been observed protecting a gray whale and its calf for up to six and a half hours.

That said, sometimes whale fights can be over in a matter of minutes, with large dominant males overpowering the competitors.

Do Whales Get Injured When Fighting?

YES, whales can get seriously injured when fighting one another as their intention is to cause serious harm to their opponent.

When humpbacks ram into each other, they purposely aim for the soft parts of their challenger which can lead to broken ribs.

When whales are defending against attackers they can become seriously injured.

Sharks are equipped with serious power and a set of razor-sharp teeth, whilst Orca hunt like a pack of wolves and often outnumber whales multiple times over.

Whales have been seen with ripped flukes, dorsal fins, and flippers as well as having big chunks torn out of their sides.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now have a clear answer to “do whales fight” and have a better understanding of why this can happen in some species.

As mentioned, whale fighting isn’t something that happens often and usually on occurs when defending from predators or during mating season.

In the ocean, one of the most effective ways to assert dominance and win mating rights over others is to fight, so it makes sense why some species do it.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I’ll catch you in the next one!