Subject: Reproductive behavior of whales

S. Jones (
Thu, 23 Jul 1998 10:16:45 -0700 (PDT)

On Thu, 23 Jul 1998, Karen Luyt wrote:

> OK, so this might sound strange, but exactly how do whale mate?
> With regards

Dear Karen,

Whales are confined to a life in the ocean, so reproduction must take
place there.  The reproductive organs of males and females are similar to
those of humans, but are tucked away inside the animal so as not to
provide added resistance as they move through the water.  In general, most
large whales feed in colder waters (near the poles) in the winter and
migrate to warmer waters in the summer to breed.  On the breeding grounds,
calves are born and females and males engage in mating behavior.  After
this period is over, they migrate back to the cooler waters to feed.

Different species have different mating strategies.  Most whales practice
polygeny, one male mates with many females during a breeding season.  This
way, the male can ensure his genetic material will be passed on to the
next generation.  There are variations on this theme.  For example, male
humpback whales sing a song during the breeding season in order to attract
females.  The right whale engages in sperm competition where
one female will mate with a number of males, one right after the other.
In this situation, the idea is for each males to produce a large quantity
of sperm and flush out the sperm of the previous male.  The successful
male is the one whose sperm makes it to the female's egg.

Reproductive behavior of cetaceans is complex and there is much more
information than what I have provided you with here.  If you are
interested in learing more, there are a lot of great books on whales and
marine mammals in general.

Hope this information helps!