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Humpback Whales Clash Over Female off the Coast of Maui

Kate Cummings

Whales may be gentle giants most of the time, but that all changes if a girl is involved.

Two of the titans of the sea were caught battling it out over a female near the Maui coast last week by photographer Kate Cummings.

The bull humpback whales, each weighing 30 to 40 tons, fought for 20 minutes to assert dominance. Their conflict comes at the end of the breeding season in Hawaii, when fights over females are relatively common.

Competing whales such as this pair will usually fight by surfacing rapidly and rolling towards their opponent. They’ll then butt heads, slap their tails and push each other around, churning the water white with their efforts. When the whales collide, they can leave each other bloodied, which is evident in the picture. Both of the whales have bloody tubercles – the wart-like protrusions on their snouts. Fighting whales can also be cut by the sharp barnacles on their competitor.

Like most competing males in nature, the victor intends to prove himself the strongest and fittest mate for nearby females. When whales gather in Hawaiian waters to mate, the female will release pheromones into the water, spurring nearby suitors to battle to be her escort. Whales will sing their infamous songs to attract mates, but scientists believe they can also be used to intimidate rival males during fights.

Cummings, a naturalist with the group Blue Ocean Whale Watch, said the whales battled each other only about 50 feet away from her boat, allowing viewers to hear the sounds of the conflict and for her to capture detailed photographs. Cummings didn’t report on which of the whales came out on top, but from the looks of things, the victory definitely didn’t come easy.

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Humpback Whales Clash Over Female off the Coast of Maui