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Dolphin Tales: Love song of the male humpback whale

By Capt. Cathy Eagle - | Oct 6, 2021

Capt. Cathy Eagle. PHOTO PROVIDED

FYI: all dolphins are whales, but not all whales are dolphins.

If you search songs of the humpback whale, multiple sound recordings will appear. The 1970 recording by Roger Payne went multi-platinum. It seems the songs have a calming effect on humans and indeed are used by many people for meditation.

Only male humpback whales sing, which suggests the song is likely a mating display similar to bird song. While singing, whales tend to remain stationary or travel slowly through the water. The males produce organized songs with distinct themes and melodies, almost always on breeding grounds.

Males form alliances with other males and will sing the same song. In this way, they coordinate their behavior. While singing, a male humpback is advertising his position. This could invite competition from other males, or those other males might be looking for partners in an alliance. Forming alliances gives the group a competitive edge against other male groups. It requires a great deal of intelligence and cooperation. When it comes to fishing grounds and females, there is more power in numbers so the whales work together.

The songs in unison among males traveling together, gives females a chance to choose the best mate from each group. Reproductive females are attracted to the broad signal of several chorusing males. The males benefit by conserving energy otherwise spent searching for females on their own.

When a male humpback approaches a female, he will stop singing. Then the courtship begins. It is like an old fashioned, slow motion waltz. Rival males will interrupt the dance as each tries to get beside the female. The 35-ton males will fight, slamming into each other, tale slapping, and throwing their weight around, even though they may be in the same alliance. It’s all about who gets to mate with the female!

Capt. Cathy Eagle has spent over 40 years boating in our local waters. As a professional charter captain she specializes in dolphin and nature tours. Visit CaptainCathy.com or call 239 994-2572.