NCBI ROFL: Whale ménage à trois: now with 1,000-kg testes!

By ncbi rofl | January 23, 2011 2:20 pm

“Given the huge size of their testes (approximately 1,000 kg [Ed. note: that's equivalent to approximately two cows]), it has been hypothesized that North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) have a mating system that is based upon sperm competition. Herein, we report an observation which provides support for this hypothesis. On 11 August 2000 in the Bay of Fundy in Canada, a mature female right whale was observed copulating simultaneously with two mature males. The female made no attempt to resist copulation. For anatomical reasons, double copulation would be difficult or impossible in most mammals; however, it is quite feasible in right whales, and the fact that it actually occurs provides strong support for the belief that females of this species promote sperm competition as a mating strategy.”

Bonus quote and figure:

“The group continued with general SAG [Surface Active Group] behaviors but with no further copulation until 16:11:02 h when the female once again rolled onto her back. As she rolled, a new male in the group (JOS-Y) surfaced on her right side. JOS-E also was positioned on her right side, and at 16:11:05 h moved across her peduncle to resume his previous position along the female’s left side, again stroking her with his right flipper. Intromission was achieved by JOS-E at 16:11:30 h. At 16:11:29 h, a bubble cloud was observed from a third unidentified male, who then surfaced between the female and JOS-Y, taking the position along the female’s right side. JOS-Y remained at the surface to the right of the female, oriented towards her midsection, but did not copulate with her. At 16:12:03 h, the third male’s penis was observed to have entered the female’s vagina. Simultaneous copulation (Figure 1) continued for 40 s until 16:12:43 h, when JOSE broke contact to roll and breathe.”

Figure 1: Simultaneous copulation of two male right whales with a female in the Bay of Fundy, 11 August 2000. {Ed note: Look closer. Yes, those are what you think they are.}

Thanks to @mary_roach for today’s ROFL!

Photo: flickr/nestor galina

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WTF is NCBI ROFL? Read our FAQ!

  • http://scienceblogs.com/thoughtfulanimal/ Jason Goldman

    This should have been attributed, either with a link to @mary_roach’s tweet (which would have linked to Scicurious’s post), or even better, with a link to Scicurious’s original post as well: http://scientopia.org/blogs/scicurious/2011/01/21/friday-weird-science-the-magnificent-mammal-menage-a-trois/

    e.g. “Thanks to Neurotic Physiology (via @mary_roach) for today’s ROFL.”

    • ncbi rofl

      Thanks for the nudge. We actually put together this post last week based on @mary_roach’s earlier tweet–we’ve updated the post to now link to it.

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About ncbi rofl

NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl

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