Humpback sex photographed for the first time – and it’s gay.

The Guardian runs a science story about a milestone in marine biology – the first time humpback whales have ever been caught on camera in the act of mating. But it’s a story with a big “turns out” – in that it turns out both whales were male:

The sighting, confirmed by scientists in a newly published study, occurred in January 2022 in waters west of the island of Maui, where two whales approached and circled a boat before engaging in sexual activity about three to five meters below the vessel.

Both of the whales were male, which makes the photos, taken by Lyle Krannichfeld and Brandi Romano, the first evidence of homosexual behavior in humpback whales as well as the first sighting of sex in the species. Homosexual behavior is common in the animal kingdom and has been spotted among dolphins and orca whales, but never previously between humpback whales.

Stephanie Stack, a whale researcher at the Pacific Whale Foundation and lead author of the new paper, said that the sexual behavior of humpback whales had “remained mostly a mystery until now”.

“This discovery challenges our preconceived notions about humpback whale behavior,” she said. “While we have long recognized the complex social structures of these incredible creatures, witnessing the copulation of two male whales for the first time is a unique and remarkable event.”

You can read more about the encounter – and how the coupling is managed at this scale underwater – here, in Marine Mammal Science.