What does a ménage à trois between whales look like?

Illustration for article titled What does a ménage à trois between whales look like?

A three-way between cetaceans involves two pliant, 7-foot-long penises, one well-attended female, and a free-love take on competitive mating. NSFW, if you haven't learned about the birds and the bees yet.

Advertisement

Over at Scientopia, blogmistress Scicurious brings to readers' attention the 2005 paper "Observations of a Female North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Simultaneous Copulation with Two Males: Supporting Evidence for Sperm Competition" from the journal Aquatic Mammals (Mate, et al.; citation). In this academic tour de force, the authors discuss the mating habits of the North Atlantic Right Whale. The males of the species have flexible penises that are somewhere between 2-2.5 meters long and testicles that literally weigh a ton. Why do the whales have such gargantuan genitalia? Allow Scicurious to elucidate:

Illustration for article titled What does a ménage à trois between whales look like?

[S]ome scientists have hypothesized that, because the male right whale also has huge balls, it might also have a lot of competition for the ladies during mating season, and that this leads to large balls and large amounts of sperm. And…they were right. More right than they thought. Because right whales do group up to get near a female at the surface (called a Surface Active Group). But unlike humpback whales, who will fight aggressively to get the girl, right whales are…a little more cooperative [...]

The black arrows point out the individuals. You can see the female there is on her back, while the males on either side are rolled on their sides, their penises each going in to her vagina.

Advertisement

The whales' large testicles ensure that an absolutely frightening volume of sperm is produced, as they must compete with other equally virile males (occasionally at the same time). Woe, to be a scuba-diving documentary filmmaker during North Atlantic Right Whale mating season.

Hat tip to Jack!

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

zero_gravitas
zero_gravitas

In the early 90's The Discovery Channel aired an interview by Charlie Rose of whale biologist Roger Payne as a companion to his documentary "In The Company of Whales" (which I used to have on tape & watch again and again before the tape broke because of Payne's fascinating thoughts on evolutionary biology, his disturbing information about organohalogen(sp?) pollution - and his haunting cello music, and hos philosophy of environmentalism and naturalism...at the time Payne was sort of a role-model for me...)

ANYWAY...during the interview Roger Payne explained that whale mating usually involved multiple males and one female - because multiple males were required to either coax or force - and I think also to lift -the female into position...really, it was almost like a rape - but I hate to use that term here...anyway, and the males, he said, would produce "gallons* of sperm...GALLONS...at a...um...shot. (Just think of THAT next time you are swimming in the ocean!)

The reason for this...prodigious production of semen...was so that they stood a chance of "washing out the contribution of the males that went before them. In fact, in this case, it was almost *better* to go last - so the smarter whales would let the other go first. (This was an example he said of "reciprocal altruism".)

Anyway...gallons. I think in this case he was talking about the humpback...hehehe...but I imagine the sperm whale...hehehe...produces just as much..heheheh...

ETA: That interview apparently won an Emmy...I sure wish I could land a copy of it today...it was called "One on One With Roger Payne": [www.pbs.org]