Male Humpback Whales Photographed Having Sex for the First Time

The encounter occurred in waters west of Hawaii.

Vincent Pommeyrol / Getty Images

Two male humpback whales were photographed having sex off the coast of Maui.

According to a new report from the Marine Mammal Science journal, this is the first time a sexual encounter of any kind between two whales has been documented, and, in particular, the first time penetrative sex has been photographed.

The images were captured in January 2022 by photographers Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano, both of whom are authors of the report, alongside marine biologist Stephanie Stack.

Sexual activity between humpbacks had never been scientifically observed or documented until now

— Scientific American (@sciam) March 1, 2024
Twitter: @sciam

“We realized pretty quickly that there was a scientific significance to it,” Krannichfeld told NBC News of the event. “Even if there were no articles published or nothing ever came of it, we knew that it was important to the scientific community and those who were studying the whales just because of the unique behavior.”

The encounter occurred in waters west of Hawaii, where the two photographers witnessed a male whale, who appeared to be unhealthy or injured, be penetrated by a strong and healthy male whale.

The emaciated whale tried to get away from the healthier whale, but the healthier whale pinned down the sickly whale before penetrating it. The authors shared that it’s unclear whether sex would occur between two healthy male humpback whales. Krannichfeld and Romano didn’t find out that both whales were male until later.

Krannichfeld called it “a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.” 

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