The mating rituals of gray whales aren't your typical mammalian attempts at romance (as we've pointed out before). When you have 40-tonne creatures trying to work with oversized anatomy in the middle of the ocean, well … things tend to get a bit more complicated. But this beautiful video of an amorous trio is proof that complicated doesn't mean awkward-looking:

The clip, captured by a drone off the coast of Dana Point, California by Dana Wharf Whale Watching, shows a "dance" between two male whales as they signal their interest in a female, who responds in turn. It looks elaborate, but according to Scripps Institution of Oceanography education specialist Christopher Fitzsimmons, it's also very common mating behaviour.

"This rolling and rubbing we see is believed to be the whales familiarising themselves with one another and making sure the female is receptive to mating," Fitzsimmons told National Geographic when a similar display was filmed in the area back in February:

In fact, even the "ménage à trois" part isn't all that unusual. As marine biologist Carrie Newell explains, male whales will often actively assist other males in their mating attempts. "Many times gray whales do mating triads and at times one male props the other male up to mate and then they flip-flop positions," Newell told National Geographic. 

Given their long gestation period of thirteen months (followed by around a year of nursing), female gray whales are very selective in their choice of partner: even when they do pick a suitable mate, they sometimes spend days evading him. But procreation aside, it appears that these giants will sometimes mate just for fun. Newell points out that the whales often "practice" outside of mating season.

"Grays are very tactile creatures and are very intelligent," Newell said. "I think they probably mate just for the fun of it."


Top image: Merrill Gosho/Wikimedia Commons