Humpback Whales Have BFFs Just Like You!

humpback whales photo
Photo: MMS, Public domain.

Will You Be My Friend?

Humpback whales are the first baleen whales known to form lasting bonds, according to scientists who study the giant sea mammals. This tells us something new about the social and emotional intelligence of our massive cousins, and also gives us one more reason why whaling is wrong. "Individual female humpbacks reunite each summer to feed and swim alongside one another in the Gulf of St Lawrence, off Canada [...] The finding raises the possibility that commercial whaling may have broken apart social groups of whales."

humpback whales photo
Photo: Flickr, CC

Baleen Whales are More Social Than We Thought

We already knew of strong bonds between individuals in species of toothed whales (such as killer whales and sperm whales), but baleen whales (the species that filter water to find food) were thought to be less social. Until recently, baleen whales had not been known to reestablish bonds from one year to the next.

humpback whales photo
Photo: Flickr, CC

Using photographic identification techniques, the researchers can spot which individual whales appear from one year to the next.

During this study, they have found that the same humpback whales reunite each year.

Having spent the rest of the year apart migrating and breeding, individual humpbacks somehow find each other again in the open ocean each summer, spending the season feeding together. (source)

Commercial Whalers Probably Took Advantage of This
A friendship lasting 6 years has been observed, but it wouldn't be surprising if even longer friendships are formed. It is suspected that this tendency to stay in groups of friends could have made it easier for humpback whales to be caught by commercial whalers in the past. Whole social groups could have been wiped out because of this.

humpback whales photo
Photo: Flickr, CC

No one knows exactly how the whales find each other each summer, but it probably has to do with their songs. It seems like females are primarily forming bonds with other females of similar ages, and never with males.

The humpack whale, when adult, measures between 12-16 metres (39-52 ft) and weighs approximately 36,000 kilograms (79,000 lb).


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Tags: Animals | Oceans


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