NOTE: The following article contains graphic descriptions. Please read at your own discretion.

Sometimes studying nature gets voyeuristic — but whale watchers off the coast of Hawaii got more than they bargained for when they observed two male humpback whales getting freaky in the wild.

The encounter made waves in the scientific marine community, as this was both the first recorded evidence of penetrative sex in the species and the first witnessed homosexual activity between two humpback whales.

A study documenting the unprecedented moment, as well as the accompanying photographs, was published in the journal Marine Mammal Science on Tuesday.

Two photographers opportunistically captured the historic moment west of Maui in January 2022. Whether they wanted to or not, Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano got rare front-row seats to the action when the two male humpbacks initiated sex only three to five feet below their boat.

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The occurrence was then studied and validated by scientists.

The study says despite the decades-long efforts of researchers, the sexual behaviour of humpback whales “remains largely undescribed.”

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According to the study, the two male humpback whales approached the boat and circled one another several times. One of the whales, labelled Whale A by researchers, was emaciated and was covered in whale lice (called Cyamus boopis), a type of parasite that reproduces on injured or vulnerable whales and other marine mammals.

After much circling, Whale B — a larger, healthier whale — approached Whale A and appeared to hold Whale A with its fins before penetrating the genital opening of Whale A. (Male humpback whales, like many cetaceans, have sheathed genitals that retract.)

Two adult male humpback whales seen off Maui, Hawaiʻi, on Jan. 19, 2022.  The whales were captured on camera displaying the first-ever evidence of homosexual behaviour in the species, as well as the first recorded sighting of sex among humpback whales.

Marine Mammal Science

The entire observation lasted about 30 minutes. In the end, the male whales parted ways and dove into deeper waters.

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Humpback whales spend the summer months feeding in frigid, polar waters before travelling south to tropical waters, where it is believed the species reproduces.

They are the sixth-largest whale species, typically measuring an impressive 16 metres long and weighing a whopping 30 tons at maturity.

Homosexuality in the wild

According to the National Wildlife Federation, same-sex behaviour among animals has been observed by researchers in more than 1,500 species.

Other marine mammals, including bottlenose dolphins, gray seals, walruses and killer whales, have already been recorded engaging in homosexual relationships in the wild. These homosexual interactions are relatively common.

It is believed homosexual behaviour occurs in some animal species as a result of relationship-building or dominance and practice among juveniles for adult mating.

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