Love In The Deep: How Do Whales Mate?

how do whales mate

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Whales are truly some of the most majestic animals on earth, they’ve captivated humans for centuries with their large size and curiosity.

These enormous marine mammals can grow to 100 feet in length and weigh as much as 200 tonnes, making them the largest animal to have ever roamed the earth.

But despite their size, they still have some of the most graceful and fascinating mating rituals in all the animal kingdom.

Today, we will dive deep into the world of whale mating and look at some of the fascinating rituals that many whales exhibit during the mating process.

So, how do whales mate? Let’s find out.

How Do Whales Mate?

Whales mate in a very similar way to humans do, the nuts and bolts are exactly the same, with the male inserting his penis into the female whale’s vagina and ejaculating.

But the specific method of mating can vary depending on the species, with different whale species having different mating rituals.

For example, humpbacks have a long courtship ritual that involves singing, physical displays, and body contact.

how do whales mate
Photo by Elianne Dipp

These rituals can last for between a couple of minutes or up to half an hour depending on the individual.

The two whales swim closely with one another and the male uses a variety of tactics such as vocalizations and blowing bubbles to impress the female.

It’s as easy as that folks!

If the female is receptive to his efforts, the male will position himself behind her and begin to mate with her, with his sperm fertilizing her eggs.

Whilst whale mating may seem like a clunky process for animals that are so large, it’s actually a delicate and precise process that has been perfected over millions of years.

How Often Do Whales Mate?

The frequency of whale mating depends largely on the species, but most whales mate annually or biennially.

Humpback whales tend to mate every year in line with their breeding season, often during the winter months in their respective mating grounds.

Whereas blue whales may only mate once every three years, overall health, age, sexual maturity, and water temperature also play a role in how often whales mate.

It’s also worth noting that whales have long gestation periods and their reproductive rates are low when compared to other animals.

Humpbacks have a gestation period of around 11 months, whereas blue whales are pregnant for around 12 months.

This is likely due to the size of the calf growing in the womb and the development needed before these animals can be born.

Mothers usually give birth to one calf that they nurture, but it is possible for whales to have twins but researchers estimate that the chances of this are less than 1%.

Are Whales Monogamous?

No, whales are not known to be monogamous, in fact, they are known to mate with multiple partners over the course of a breeding season.

This gives them the best chances of producing offspring and continuing their lineage.

Most whale species have a polygynous mating system which is where males compete for access to females during the breeding season.

Dominant whales will typically breed with multiple females, with some males not getting the chance to breed at all.

It’s a cutthroat time when only the strongest whales get to breed, and males will often battle it out for the right to mate.

Whales don’t value monogamy as much as some animals do, and their sole purpose is to ensure their survival and produce offspring.

Therefore, having more than multiple partners gives them the best odds for success, so it makes sense for them to mate as often as they can.

How Do Whales Give Birth?

Whales are marine mammals which means that calves grow inside of their mothers and are born through lives births.

Typically female whales will move to shallow waters or warm lagoons to give birth, then once she is ready the calf will emerge tail first.

It’s a pretty quick and streamlined process as the calf does most of its growing inside of the mother, so when it’s ready it just slides right out.

The calf is born with a protective membrane covering its body for protection, then once born the mother will remove it by rubbing it against objects in the water.

From start to finish the entire birthing process takes only several hours to complete but once born the calf will stay close to its mother and learn the tools needed to survive.

Calves typically stay with their mothers for about six to seven months, with some staying with Mom for as long as a year before venturing out on their own.

Their mother’s milk is incredibly rich in nutrients and fat, allowing the calf to grow very quickly all whilst under the watchful eye of mum.

What Do Whales Do When They Want To Mate?

When whales want to mate, the male and female will chase each other around playfully and essentially flirt with one another.

They may breach, splash, playfight, vocalize, and more before they decide whether it’s the right mating partner or not.

how do whales mate
Photo by Diego Concepción

When the time comes to mate, the male will position himself at a slight angle and usually behind the female, with his belly touching the female’s side.

Whales may display many different behaviors when they want to breed, and their species will play a role in this.

Wrapping Up

In summary, whales mate very similarly to how humans do, with males inserting their penis into the female’s vagina and then ejaculating.

This allows the male’s sperm to fertilize the female’s eggs, and then if successful the long gestation process begins where the calf begins to grow.

After around 11 months or so, the female will give live birth to a calf which she will nurse for up to one year.

Whale calves grow at a rapid rate due to the mother’s rich, nourishing milk that is VERY high in fat content.

Unlike some animals, whales are not monogamous and instead breed with multiple compatible mates during a breeding season to ensure the best chances of producing offspring.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about how whales mate today and I’ll see you in the next one!