Do humpback whales have friends?

  • Tic Tac Toe et Snowball ont été observées nageant côte à côte depuis dimanche dans le parc marin du Saguenay-Saint-Laurent. / Tic Tac Toe and Snowball are seen swimming side by side since Sunday in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. © Renaud Pintiaux
    05 / 07 / 2019 Par Jeanne Picher-Labrie

    Since arriving in the Marine Park area, Tic Tac Toe has been observed multiple times with another female nicknamed Snowball. At the end of last summer, it was with Gaspar that Tic Tac Toe spent all her time. Why are these humpback duos observed in the St. Lawrence feeding grounds?

    By hunting in pairs, female humpbacks likely eat more fish! Indeed, pairing up likely enables them to concentrate their prey more easily while reducing competition for food.

    Two humpback whales doing cooperative surface feeding

    Two humpback whales doing cooperative surface feeding © Aleria Jensen, NOAA

    In fact, according to a study on humpbacks in the Gulf of Maine, another feeding area, pregnant females appear to be more likely to team up for extended periods. By doing so, they probably benefit from a greater energy intake as they prepare for calving and nursing.

    Why not males?

    Males could also potentially benefit from teamwork when feeding. However, unlike females, they do not seem to hunt cooperatively in any sort of lasting way. This may be because they will have to compete for females later in the year!

    Many questions remain unanswered. Why do only certain females form pairs? And how do whales choose their “companions”?

    To learn more

    Consult the article (1991) Weinrich, M.T., Stable social associations among humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the southern Gulf of Maine. (Canada). Canadian Journal of Zoology.

    Jeanne Picher-Labrie joined the Whales Online team in 2019 as a writing intern. She is studying for her Bachelor’s in biology and has always been enthralled by nature. Every day she learns a little more about the marine mammals of the St. Lawrence and aims to share her fascination through popular science.