Question on mating

From: Phil Clapham (
Date: Tue Sep 10 2002 - 15:20:05 EDT

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    >> I have previously heard that whales come to our shores to calf and >> mate. Is it true that they come in 3's? 2 females and 1 male. One >> to act as a midwife and that one will then calf the next year?
    No, actually this isn't true. Different kinds of whales do different
    things, though given where you live you'reprobably talking about
    Southern right whales. This species calves in S African waters, with
    mothers coming very close to the coast. The population has indeed been
    increasing over the last decade or more, which is very nice to see since
    these whales were hunted in great numbers historically.

    It's also posisble that you are seeing humpback whales, which come in
    close to the coast off southern Africa. In either case, the idea that
    there is an "aunty" is correct, though years ago some people speculated
    about this when they saw a third whale accompanying a mother and calf.
    in humpbacks, the 'escort" is always male, and is rarely the father of
    the calf; rather, he's there in the hope of mating with the mother.
    Female humpbacks sometimes come into oestrus after giving birth and they
    will occasionally conceive again right afterwards, so it's not
    surprising that males hang out with them. Male humpbacks often fight
    quite aggressively over females during the winter breeding season.

    In right whales, the mating system is a bit different. Unlike
    humpbacks, which have a distinct mating season (winter), right whales
    mate at all times, though calves are boren only in winter. Female right
    whales will often mate serially with two or more males, and it's unusual
    for males to fight over females in this species.

    Hope this helps. Enjoy your whales!


    Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D. Large Whale Biology Program Northeast Fisheries Science Center 166 Water Street Woods Hole, MA 02543, U.S.A.

    tel. 508 495-2316 fax 508 495-2066 email:

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