2012 01 23- Four males fighting over a female, 8 Cuviers. Candle resighted and another resighting Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   
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For the first time I have witnessed humpback mating behaviour entirely consistent with courting humpbacks I have observed numerous times in the Caribbean and Hawaii. This wasn't the idle kind of 'flirting' we have seen in the past. This was the real, hard core thing. Above left, one of the four males battling it out to be the primary escort to a female was Candle. Candle was the whale that joined in during my up-close-and personal-underwater encounter with Magical Whale. We have seen Candle in April in 2007, 2010, 2011 and now in Janary 2012. Which way is Candle going? Southbound still, or just hanging around the mid-ocean for the winter? Before our Bermuda sightings, Candle was identified only once before, off Labrador in 1977. Above right is a whale we identified on the 21st of January, three days earlier. This was one of the four male whales competing for the female
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You can see the raw, pink tubercules on the whale's jaw from head butting his opponents. Above right the male escort cuts off would-be suitors by ramming them
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Above left, a sudden stop to whack a pursuer on the head with the fluke or above right slashing with flukes at the adjacent whale. For two hours these whales duked it out in deep water some 25 miles off Bermuda (T DC)
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Above, using the head to butt the fluke of the whale in front or ramming on top of the whale in front
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Lots of arched backs but rarely did the fluke rise out of the water as the whales submerged to do most of their fighting underwater. It was only when they surfaced that we saw the action. The engine was turned off through most of this and the whales kept returning to the boat so that we were given front row seats. At times the boat rocked with the swell of water created by the upwelling from flukes of the whales fighting below us
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If the ardour of the males slackened, the female lay on her side or back and whacked the water with her pectoral fins which only incited the males to battle again in explosive fashion
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These were all very large whales and the exertion was plain from the trumpeting and heavy breathing and the frequency with which they surfaced to breathe. This was mayhem with whales careening around avoiding or attacking one another
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Inexplicably, in the midst of this war off attrition, eight Cuvier beaked whales appeared in the midst of the humpbacks. At first we thought they were dolphins riding the pressure wave of the humpbacks, such as we have witnessed before. On closer inspection we could see they were too big to be dolphins. These Cuviers were in the middle of the ocean. Why did they surface in the midst of dueling humpbacks? Curious?
I have no doubt that these whales were seriously attempting to mate with the female. The timing is right and if the female does mate, she would give birth some 11 months later. Would she return to Bermuda to calve? Does this mean we are a breeding and calving ground? What it does mean is that the middle of the ocean is not just a transitory corridor for the humpbacks. They feed, breed, and calve here too. Today I received a call from Jeffry and Linda Lindo who reliably report they saw a ten foot baby humpback whale with a mother and escort (O DI).The whales were close enough to their boat and the water was clear enough that they were certain the calf was as small as 10-12 feet. If so, then this is a whale born in or around Bermuda! It certainly hasn't migrated up here yet from the breeding grounds in the Caribbean. Exciting stuff and the season has just started. We've been lucky with unusually calm, warm water to get out and observe what is happening off Bermuda
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