Sperm Whale

Whale breaching
Whale breaching

Whale surfacing showing head
Whale surfacing showing head

Mother and juvenile underwater
Mother and juvenile underwater

Whale breaching
Whale breaching

 

Taxonomy

Scientific name: Physter macrocephalus.
Order: Artiodactyla.
Family: Physeteridae. 
Genus:  Physter.

 

IUCN Status

Vulnerable.

 

Appearance

Large species of whale, males can grow to 18 meters and females can grow to 11 meters. They have large square-shaped heads that are 1/3 of their entire body length. Sperm whales are grey or brown but can appear black or pale orangey-brown. This species of whale doesn’t have a dorsal fin, but have a large ‘knobble’, going down the dorsal ridge of the tail. Sperm whales have a strong blow that is angled forward from a single blow hole set at the front to the left of the head.

 

Habitat and distribution

It is estimated that there are over 100,000 in the ocean. They are found all over the world, in temperate to tropical waters. They are normally seen in late summer and early autumn, either as individuals or in small pods of 2 to 5, very occasionally seen in larger pods if there is a lot of food.

 

Behaviour

Sperm whales can dive for up to 2 hours. Between dives, they often stay at the surface, breathing every 10 to 20 seconds. They breach regularly, emerging at a steep angle and sometimes leaping clear out of the water before belly flopping back into the water.

 

Confusion with other species

Due to them not having a dorsal fin they are not often confused with other species.

 

Threats

In the past, sperm whales were exploited for their body oil, which were used in the production of cosmetics and perfumes. Sperm whales are still hunted for their meat in Japan. Other threats include entanglement in fishing gear, and the usage of ship sonars which can prevent them from finding food and navigating in the ocean.

 

Interesting facts

Sperm whales can dive to depths of more than 3,000 ft, and can hold their breaths for up to 90 minutes. 


Sperm whales share a similar matriarchal instinct to elephants: adult females can young whales will form groups to teach juveniles on how to hunt for food. Males prefer to swim independently or form small bachelor groups.