Two Male Humpback Whales Seen Having Sex — With Each Other

For the first time, humpback whales have been spotted having sex, and both whales were male. Humpbacks have been studied for decades, but witnesses have never observed any sexual activity before, let alone an unusual situation like this.

Marine biologist Stephanie Stack and photographers Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano captured the encounter in 2022. They were off the west coast of Maui, Hawaii when they spotted the two whales. One of the males was covered in whale lice and looked quite unhealthy and emaciated. The other looked larger and very strong.

The two male humpback whales copulating in 2022

The two male humpback whales copulating in 2022. Photo: Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano


The team believed that the scrawnier whale was approaching their boat to try and avoid the other whale. It was swimming away from the other male, and circling the boat to try and steer clear of him.

Hard to miss

Eventually, he gave up. At that point, the larger, healthier whale held the smaller, older whale three meters below the surface of the water with his pectoral fins and began to penetrate him.

“It’s easy to visibly identify male ‘homosexual’ sex when an extruded penis can be two meters long,” Conor Ryan of the Scottish Association for Marine Science told The Guardian.

River dolphins, grey seals, orcas, and walruses have all been seen engaging in same-sex behavior, but this is a first for humpback whales.

The two male humpback whales copulating in 2022

The two male humpback whales copulating in 2022. Photo: Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano


Researchers have studied this particular group of whales for decades and easily identified the two male individuals involved. The whales usually spend the summer months in colder water and then migrate to the tropics in winter. But the mating of humpback whales has always been a bit of a mystery. Despite its size, even sightings of the male penis have been very rare up until now.

“The whales are a big part of our lives here in Maui,” Krannichfeld told NBC. “Everybody…who photographs them kind of realizes that…mating and birth are the two main things that are still kind of unknown.”

Humpback penises usually remain within a genital slit. Tucking the appendage away keeps the whales more streamlined for swimming.

The researchers think that the larger whale penetrated either the genital slit or the anus. But why the same-sex copulation? It could have been to show dominance over the smaller whale, suggest researchers. It could also have been to practice for future breeding with females or to create an alliance of some kind.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.