Briefly: Science

International Herald Tribune, January 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Briefly: Science


As compiled by editors of the International Herald Tribune.

CETOLOGY

Humpback whales seek pairings based on size

Going underwater with video cameras and sonar, scientists have gained new insights into the mating behavior of humpback whales.

They learned that female humpbacks on the prowl prefer the largest males on the breeding ground, while smaller males gravitate toward smaller females -- apparently so as "to run less risk of a big male coming over and beating you up," said Adam Pack, a biologist and psychologist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, who added, "It's basically making the best of a poor situation."

Mr. Pack and his colleagues, who report their findings in the journal Animal Behavior, tracked 67 dyads, or pairs of male and female whales, in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii. Although humpback mating has never been seen, it is likely that these were mating pairs, Mr. Pack said. The whales migrate from Alaska each year to breed, fasting and relying on stored reserves to survive.

The researchers used underwater videogrammetry to capture images of the whales at sea. The technique involves recording the whales with a camera, measuring the camera's angle of view and using a sonar device to estimate the distance of the whale from the camera. "With a little bit of geometry we can determine the true length of the whale," Mr. …

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