Seminar Series

The behaviour of humpback whales in Hawaiian waters.

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are found in all oceans of the world and make extensive seasonal migrations between high-latitude summer feeding areas and low-latitude winter breeding areas. Since 1975, researchers from the University of Hawaii's Department of Psychology and Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory have studied humpback whales wintering in Hawaiian waters. This research has covered many topics including migration, social behaviour and associations, reproduction, vocalisations and habitat use. In this presentation, I will begin with an overview of humpback whale behaviour and biology. I will then describe two specific research studies, both of which were based on data collected over a 20 year period. The first study investigated whether different classes of whale (juveniles, mature males, lactating females and non-lactating females) exhibit differences in their migratory timing to and from the Hawaiian Islands. The second study investigated whether males associate randomly with females or associate preferentially with females who have high reproductive potential. This study also investigated whether the apparent attractiveness of individual females varied with their reproductive potential. Altogether, the results of these and other studies indicate that the behaviour of humpback whales can be predicted reasonably well from their life history and ecology. Thus, contrary to popular belief, the principles governing the behaviour of humpback whales are not fundamentally different from those governing the behaviour of terrestrial species.