Welcome to the wonderous world of whales, where majesty and mystery come together in perfect harmony. These gentle giants of the ocean have fascinated humans for centuries, with their complex social behaviors and unique adaptations to their aquatic environment.
But one aspect of whale biology that remains largely unknown to the general public is the appearance of their genitalia. Yes, you heard that right! The question of ‘What does a whale penis look like?’ has been on the minds of many. So we’re here to answer it in an informative and educational way.
With the help of the latest scientific research, we’ll delve into the wonders of whale genital anatomy and uncover the mysteries behind this intriguing topic.
The Sea Serpent Myth
Did you ever hear of the mythical sea serpent creatures? These huge beasts, sighted and described by sailors all over the world, may have not been individual animals but most likely parts of much bigger animals.
Studies unravelled that these sea serpents probably just have been a whale’s private parts or not so private! Of course, nobody can say with 100% certainty what happened out there. But when comparing drafts of those creatures with photos of whale penises, the similarity is striking!
A Lot of Variability
The male genitalia of animals come in a wide range in terms of size, shape and quantity depending on the function of this organ. There is really no shortage of variability – big, small, spiky, curly, forks and even swords.
In general, the male reproductive organ is a rapidly evolving structure and can be truly different even between closely related species. Surprisingly, one doesn’t need to search far for proof of this fast evolution.
Genetic research showed that, before splitting into humans and Neanderthals, the human penises most likely still had spines. Due to changing mating patterns and an increase in monogamous relationships, we lost the spines and evolved complexity in our brains and social structures.
A Whale’s Penis/Phallus
Anatomy of Whale Penises
Commonly, the penis of cetaceans is not hanging outside, but it is stored within a genital slit und the lower side of the animal, protruding only when required.
Moreover, whales and dolphins have an outstandingly agile phallus with two muscles attached to the pelvis, giving an expanded range of motion and control. This fibro-elastic prehensile structure further allows the whale to alter the shape of his most precious piece to dexterously accommodate it to the anatomy of the female.
Additionally, it is suggested that the elasticity of this tissue helps to get the penis erected instead of an increased blood flow, but this is not completely confirmed yet since correct measurements during intercourse are almost impossible to conduct.
Keep Sperm Viable
As all cetaceans are mammals, they reproduce by fertilizing the females’ egg cell with sperm. However, in contrast to most terrestrial counterparts, male whales and dolphins don’t have their genitalia hanging outside. This is the case for phallus and scrotum, resulting in a logistic problem as sperm needs to be stored cooler than at body temperature.
So how do they solve this? Cetaceans use the natural path of their arteries and veins to keep the sperm viable. In order to lose heat, the blood flows through fins and fluke first before entering the genitalia.
And just in case this famous age-old question might plague your mind: No, the ocean is not salty because of whale sperm!
As already mentioned before, there is a variety in cetacean genitalia. In order to get you more familiar with the best-known we will go a little more into detail about certain species.
The private parts of humpback whales are probably some of the best-studied cetacean genitals around the world. Alone in 2002, scientists were able to record 13 different instances of humpback whale erections.
Due to this success, they figured out that most penis extrusions happened actually during male contests for dominance. Furthermore, these recordings could provide evidence that some lone males may extend themselves while singing for company.
Gray and Right Whales
Remember the sea serpent sightings from the beginning? Particularly right and gray whales may be responsible for those!
Female right whales are well-known to go belly-up as an attempt to avoid mating with unwanted visitors. For the males this means that their agile and long penis definitely brings an advantage for reaching the target.
In terms of size, we can say that the biggest animals have also the biggest genitalia. And indeed, the blue whale comes with an average penis length of 3 meters and 33 cm diameter! Each testicle can weigh up to 70 kg and store about 17 liters of sperm fluid.
📚 Similar Scientific Articles - Do whales and dolphins lay eggs? | Scientific Approach - How do dolphins mate? | Scientific Approach - How Fast Can Whales Swim | Scientific Approach - How Do Whales and Dolphins Communicate? | Scientific Approach - Is the Fin Whale endangered? | Scientific Approach - Portuguese Man-o-war (Physalia physalis): Everything You Need to know | Scientific Approach - What is a Group of Dolphins called? | Scientific Approach - What Do Dolphins Eat | Scientific Approach
However, this is not just fun facts, but knowing the length of an individuals’ phallus may facilitate to indicate the maturity state, although there is a variety in differences. In the exhibition of the Icelandic Phallological Museum one can get the opportunity to see parts of a blue whale penis, which they call lovingly “The real Moby Dick”. The full organ was estimated to have a length of 5 m and 450 kg!
Furthermore, the mating behavior of blue whales can be very impressive! Males and females spend some time rolling around each other before taking a deep dive into the ocean abyss and then, suddenly, flying up. They crash through the surface and just in this moment the male thrusts its penis into the mammal slit of the female and ejaculates.
Dolphins indeed do not just have a huge variety in genitalia shapes and sizes, but also they have the most flexible penis of the cetaceans.
There is at least one known occasion when a dolphin towed a swimmers hooked with its erect penis through the ocean. The dolphin phallus can be swiveled and groped around to reach its target and deal with the extensive vaginal folds of the females.
These folds are important for the female, because they can block penetration to some point and thus, allowing themselves to chose the most suitable father for their offspring. However, as at least bottlenose dolphins are known to mate for fun, males also sometimes just rub their genitals against each other or from time to time even insert the penis into the mammal slit or anus of another male.
Nevertheless, there is still a big lack of knowledge regarding the reproductive systems of cetaceans worldwide. Some species show an easier observable mating behavior, like for example gray whales, right whales and humpback whales and others are still kind of a mystery.
Here on the Azores mating behavior of sperm whales may be observed in rare occasions, but is definitely not a daily view. However, if your whale watching trip with us does not show one of these highlights, there is always another one! Observing these amazing creatures is magical anyway!
- Bland, K. P., & Kitchener, A. C. (2001). The anatomy of the penis of a sperm whale (Physeter catodon L., 1758). Mammal Review, 31(3‐4), 239-244.
- Dines, J. P., Otárola‐Castillo, E., Ralph, P., Alas, J., Daley, T., Smith, A. D., & Dean, M. D. (2014). Sexual selection targets cetacean pelvic bones. Evolution, 68(11), 3296-3306.
- Orbach, D. N., Marshall, C. D., Mesnick, S. L., & Würsig, B. (2017). Patterns of cetacean vaginal folds yield insights into functionality. PloS One, 12(3).
- Orbach, D. N. (2019). Sexual strategies: male and female mating tactics. In Ethology and behavioral ecology of odontocetes (pp. 75-93). Springer, Cham.
- Pabst, D., Rommel, S. A., & McLellan, W. A. (1998). Evolution of thermoregulatory function in cetacean reproductive systems. In The emergence of whales (pp. 379-397). Springer, Boston, MA.
- Pack, A., Herman, L. M., Craig, A. L., Spitz, S. S., & Deakos, M. H. (2002). Penis extrusions by humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae). Aquatic Mammals, 28(2), 131-146.
- Paxton, C. G. M., Knatterud, E., & Hedley, S. L. (2005). Cetaceans, sex and sea serpents: an analysis of the Egede accounts of a “most dreadful monster” seen off the coast of Greenland in 1734. Archives of natural history, 32(1), 1-9.
- Schaeff, C. M. (2007). Courtship and mating behavior. Reproductive biology and phylogeny of cetacea: whales, dolphins, and porpoises (DL Miller, ed.). Science Publishers, Enfield, New Hampshire, 349-370.