Social Organization

Over the last decade we have noticed extremely tight bonds between certain humpback whales. Every year the same whales would arrive together, generally in groups of two. Now we know that most of these pairs were not male to female, but female to female. We have also recognized that only certain whales will feed together. There is one large feeding group of 11 whales and for a reason we do not understand only certain whales are permitted to join this group. As the season progresses and this large group breaks into smaller groups we will witness this same pattern of certain whales that will tolerate only certain individual to join in as a team. For the first time we are now able to observe how this social pattern is evolving as we have a large group of juveniles in the area. They will arrive as single whales and over the days we will observe displays of pectoral slapping, breaching, tail lobbing, all activities that from our point of view indicate certain levels of fitness and competition. What this display means to the whales, we can only speculate as we see only what occurs on the surface. A major part of this puzzle can only be seen below the water. What we are able to conclude from this action is a decision between the whales as to who will accompany one other, while the other whale is left behind and without a travel or resting companion. We are not always sure if these interactions are between males, females or both. Is it possible that just like ourselves, during adolescence the struggle to be part of a group also exists in the social dynamics of humpback whales? A fabulous research question that will continue to inspire us to understand the mind of this majestic whale.