*posted 1st on OLS Buzz, but thought those of you who don't subscribe to both of my blogs you all might enjoy it, too...*
"Sleep, and dream of large women..."
Westley might have been talking to a giant, but he could have said the same thing to the humpback whale population that spends every December to April in the "four-island" region off of the coast of Maui, Hawaii. Researchers from the Dolphin Institute in Honolulu have been monitoring, photographing, and recording information about humpbacks in the area for years. They wanted to better understand the mating behavior of these immense aquatic beasts.
Humpback whales are one of the largest whales in the ocean, but even still observing and recording data on mating strategies is difficult. Researchers had learned that they form what are called "competitive groups," where a slew of males fight to have access to a single female.
This is not always ideal for the women, who have to fend off lower quality males as best they can. My professor at Eckerd even tells a tale about how, while trying to conduct photo surveys of humpbacks, one female sought refuge under the boat. The persistent males were not deterred, and one even flopped his, *eh-em*, organ onto the deck and proceeded to fling it around in an attempt to find the female's hidden sweet spot. Anyhow, some females garnish more attention than others - the poor women have as many as 20 suitors vying for them. So scientists wondered what made a female most attractive to their potential mates.
Using photo surveys, researchers looked at individual females and how many males courted them. They found that the larger a female was in terms of body length, the more men tried to sleep with her. So, for whales anyhow, size does matter, and bigger is better.
Why would whales prefer larger women? Because, like humans, whales put a lot of investment into their offspring. Bigger females are older, wiser, and fatter - therefore able to provide more nourishment to their young. Other data has shown that bigger females give birth to bigger babies, giving them the best chances at survival. Just like human men like big hips because they're correlated with easier, complication-free births and big boobs that are all the better to feed babies with, whale men like large women because they're more likely to produce healthy offspring which survive to continue the lineage.
Of course, the cost of trying for the best babe is that there's more competition - and where's there's more competition, there's more risk for injury as the larger males beat up on the smaller ones to get to the girl. So while the sexiest whales are the largest, smaller ones still get attention.
Research like this is helping us understand the seldom-witnessed interaction between these magnificent beasts. By better understanding their nature, we can better ensure their survival, so generations to come can enjoy the magic of seeing these immense giants firsthand.
Link to the study