|Sperm Whale Fluke in Afternoon; Gulf of Mexico: Viking Vision 01.2008|
|The Old Tale of Moby Dick|
|Sperm Whale Getting Ready for Deep Dive; Gulf of Mexico: Viking Vision 01.2008|
|Sperm Whale Logging at Surface before Sunset; Gulf of Mexico: Viking Vision 02.2008|
|Sperm Whale 45 Degree Blow; Gulf of Mexico: Viking Vision 02.2008|
1. The name Sperm whale comes from the enormous bulbous spermaceti organ in the head. The alternative name “cachalot” was the name given by the early whalers as when they caught one they would yell just “caught a lot!” Legend has it that sometime in the early 18th century, around 1712, Captain Christopher Hussey, while cruising for North Atlantic right whales near shore, was blown offshore by a northerly wind, where he encountered a Sperm whale pod and killed one. Although the story may not be true, Sperm whales were indeed soon exploited by American whalers.
2. The scientific name Physeter macrocephalus — from the Greek physeter (blower), makers (long) and kephale (head).
3. The main threats to the Sperm whales are human disturbance, entanglement in fishing nets both deliberately and unconsciously, and environmental degradation (i.e. pollution, swallowing man-made objects).
4. Sperm whales are easily the largest toothed carnivores on earth. Sperm whales hang out in a world that most of us can barely comprehend – a world harder for humans to survive in than outer space.
5. Sperm whales have a huge spermaceti organ in the head that causes the head to be from 1/3 to a 1/4 of the length of the animal. Clearly this is an enormous structure and while it has similar counterparts in other Odontocetes – many dolphins and small toothed whales have a bulbous “melon” with a similar internal structure – it is developed to an extreme in the Sperm whale. The organ itself is full of oil which becomes a solid waxy substance at room temperature. About 25 to 40 barrels of whale oil could be had from a Sperm whale of average size. Extremes of over 100 barrels are found in legend.
6. They frequently stay in deep waters which means that they are usually found offshore unless depths of more than 200m are found near to shores for example off volcanic and oceanic islands. Most commonly they are found in submarine canyons at the edges of the continental shelf, but may also occur in mid-ocean. They are discovered in deep waters as this is where their prey of squid is found. One of the behavior characteristics that are displayed frequently with Sperm whales is logging. What is logging you may ask? It is when a whale lies still at the surface of the water, resting, with its tail hanging down. While floating motionless, part of the head, the dorsal fin or parts of the back are exposed at the surface. Sperm whales are often seen logging and are relatively easy to approach in this state.
7. A whole range of cephalopods (squid, octopuses and cuttlefish), deep-sea fish, and non-food items have been found in the stomachs of Sperm whales around the world. Cephalopods however are thought to be the major prey. In some parts of the world, Sperm whales have been known to steal the catch from long lines set by commercial fishing boats. The skin of most Sperm whales bears the scars from the suckers of the squid that they feed on.
8. The largest toothed whale on the planet, the Sperm whale is the deepest diver of the great whales and can descend to depths of over 3,300 feet (1000 m) and stay submerged for over an hour. Average dives are 20-50 minutes long to a depth of 980-1,970 feet (300-600 m). At such great depths there is little or no solar light. However, organisms at these depths may produce biochemical light (bioluminescence). Sperm whales use their highly developed echolocation ability to locate food and to navigate; making nearly constant clicking sounds or “morse-code” or otherwise known as codas through the cavities of their skull that pulse through the water and bounce off of their subjects. The reflected sound bounces back to the whale, which in result interprets the echo. Using this technique, many kinds of whale and dolphins can “see” in complete darkness. Sperm whales can most likely determine the size, direction, and distance of the prey, which helps them hunt deep below where no light is visible. There is also a theory that sperm whales may stun their prey with a burst of sound. The only problem with echolocation is that it can also give away the presence of the whale if the prey hears it. Fortunately, for Sperm whales the giant squid cannot hear.
9. The average life span for a Sperm whale is 60-70 years.
10. Molecules called myoglobin store oxygen in muscles. They hold onto oxygen molecules until they are needed by the muscles. The more myoglobin in the muscle the darker the muscle will be. More myoglobin in a muscle means more oxygen can be stored in that muscle. Sperm whale muscles are almost black they contain so much myoglobin.
11. Inside every whale flipper (or pectoral fin, as the experts like to call it) is a collection of bones that look suspiciously like a human hand – complete even with thumb bones.
12. Sperm whales increase the levels of primary production and carbon export by defecating iron rich feces into surface waters of the Southern Ocean. The iron rich feces cause phytoplankton to grow and take up more carbon from the atmosphere. When the phytoplankton dies, it sinks to the deep ocean and takes the atmospheric carbon with it. By reducing the abundance of sperm whales in the Southern Ocean, whaling has resulted in an extra 2 million tons of carbon remaining in the atmosphere each year.
13. Sperm whales are found in all oceans of the world. The males, alone or in groups, are found in higher latitudes. From time to time they migrate toward lower latitudes, and only the largest mature males appear to enter the breeding grounds close to the equator. Females, calves, and juveniles remain in the warmer tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans year round.
14. Ambergris, a strange substance found in large lumps in the lower intestine of sperm whales, is formed around squid beaks that remain in the stomach. It was used in the making of perfume, and continues to be valuable in spite of its widespread replacement by synthetics. In fact, Sperm whales are often found to have thousands of the beaks in their stomachs; however, the sharp beaks irritate the stomach lining. As a reaction to the irritation of all the squid beaks, the whale produces in its intestines a cholesterol derivative which has come to be called ambergris.
15. In spite of their reputation as a fierce hunter, sperm whales have a natural enemy in the form of the killer whale, also known as the orca. Pods of orcas have been known to target groups of females where they try to separate the young whales from their mothers. The female whales attempt to protect their babies by forming a circle with the young calves in the center. They use their teeth and tales as weapons against the invading killer whales. It is believed that only the largest and oldest sperm whales are immune to the attacks of the orca.
|Sperm Whale Calf Fluke; Gulf of Mexico: Viking Vision 01.2008|
4) Battering ram / shock absorber – a relatively recent suggestion is that the spermaceti organ in males enables them to fight each other while competing for females by swimming directly at each other and battering with their heads. Similar behaviour is certainly seen in many other species of animal, on land and sea, the fact that the males are so much larger than the females implies that direct competition may take place between the males. The Sperm whale is capable of using its head in this way and is graphically demonstrated by the wreck of the whale ship Essex (87 feet long with a 21 man crew) in 1820. This provided evidence that it was repeatedly rammed amidships by a large stricken male Sperm whale and sent to the bottom of the ocean marooning the crew in a small life boat. This was the true inspiration for Moby Dick.
|Sperm Whale Reveals Triangular Dorsal Fin with Knuckles; Gulf of Mexico: Viking Vision 01.2008|
|Sperm Whale Fluke during First Sighting of Sperm Whale; Gulf of Mexico: Viking Vision 01.2008|
According to Dr. Galapagos, this is how we dive with a Sperm whale. We start at the surface. Our sperm whale is getting ready to go hunting. Her hunting grounds are where the squid and other tasty sea creatures are bountiful – a world where “the sun don’t shine.” Straight down. Way down. Into total cold crushing blackness. If our whale has just come up from a dive she first spends 10 minutes or more clearing her lungs, blowing a breath in and out every 12 seconds. She’s getting rid of old carbon dioxide from the last dive and loading up with fresh oxygen. She’s got to store up a lot of oxygen because she will be holding her breath for the next 45 to 60 minutes. Most of the excess oxygen for the next dive will be stored in the huge powerful swimming muscles.
|Sperm Whale Displays Triangular Dorsal Fin and Blubbery Skin; Gulf of Mexico: Viking Vision 02.2008|
|Sperm Whale Fluke with Strong Glare; Gulf of Mexico: Viking Vision 01.2008|