Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale

name = Sperm WhaleMSW3 Cetacea | id=14300131 ]
status = VU
status_system = iucn3.1
status_ref = [IUCN2008|assessors=Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L.|year=2008|id=41755|title=Physeter macrocephalus|downloaded=7 October 2008 ]

image_caption = "Scarred Giant" (detail)

image2_caption = Size comparison against an average human
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Mammalia
ordo = Cetacea
subordo = Odontoceti
familia = Physeteridae
genus = "Physeter"
species = "P. macrocephalus" or "P. catodon" (see text)
binomial = "Physeter macrocephalus" or "Physeter catodon"
binomial_authority = Linnaeus, 1758
synonyms =

range_map_caption= Sperm whale range (in blue)

The Sperm Whale ("Physeter macrocephalus" or "Physeter catodon") is the largest of all toothed whales and largest living toothed animal. The whale was named after the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in its head and originally mistaken for sperm. It has a cosmopolitan distribution across the world's oceans. The species feeds on squid and fish, diving as deep as convert|2200|m|ft in order to obtain its prey, making it the deepest diving mammal in the world. Pods of females and young live separately from older males. Sperm whales live for more than 70 years.

The Sperm Whale's enormous head and distinctive shape, as well as its central role in Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick", have led many to describe it as the archetypal whale. Partly because of Melville, the Sperm Whale is commonly associated with the Leviathan of the Bible. The fearsome reputation perpetuated by Melville was based on bull whales' ability to fiercely defend themselves from attacks by early whalers, sometimes resulting in the destruction of the whaling ships. Historically the Sperm Whale has also been known as the common cachalot. The word "cachalot" is originally Portuguese ("cachalote"), probably coming from "cachola", a colloquial term for "head". Sperm whales were commercially hunted until recently, declined as a consequence of over-harvesting, and are currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.


Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales, with adult males measuring up to convert|20.5|m|ft|lk=on long. [http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=190 "Physeter macrocephalus", Sperm Whale] at [http://marinebio.org/ marinebio.org] ] Their distinctive shape comes from their very large head, particularly in males, which is typically one-third of the animal's length. In contrast to the smooth skin of most other large whales, the skin on the back of the Sperm Whale is usually knobbly and has been likened to a prune by whale-watching enthusiasts.cite book | author=Mark Carwardine | title=On the Trail of the Whale | publisher=Chapter 1. Thunder Bay Publishing Co | year=1994 | id=ISBN 1-899074-00-7] They are uniformly grey in colour, though they may appear brown in sunlight; white albino whales have also been reported. The brain of the Sperm Whale is the largest and heaviest known of any modern or extinct animal (weighing on average convert|7|kg|lb|lk=on in a grown male). [cite web|url=http://www.stemnet.nf.ca/CITE/whalesperm.htm|title=Facts about the sperm whale|accessdate=2007-03-19] However, proportionally, the brain's weight is less than half that of a human brain when body size is factored in.

The blowhole is located very close to the front of the head and shifted to the whale's left.cite book|author=Whitehead, H.|year=2002|chapter=Sperm whale "Physeter macrocephalus"|page=1165-1172|editor=Perrin, W., Würsig B. and Thewissen, J.|title=Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals|publisher=Academic Press|isbn=0-12-551340-2] This gives rise to a distinctive bushy blow angled forward. The Sperm Whale has no true dorsal fin, instead a series of ridges are present on the caudal third of the back. The largest was called the 'hump' by whalers and is commonly mistaken for a dorsal fin because of its shape.

The is also triangular and very thick. Flukes are lifted very high out of the water before a whale begins a deep dive.

Sperm whales have 20–26 pairs of cone-shaped teeth in their lower jaw, each 8–20 cm (3–8 in) long. [cite web|url=http://www.acsonline.org/factpack/spermwhl.htm|title=American Cetacean Society Fact Sheet|accessdate=2007-03-19] Each tooth can weigh as much as one kilogram. The reason for the existence of the teeth is not known with certainty. It is believed that they are not necessary for feeding on squid and indeed healthy well-fed Sperm Whales have been found in the wild without teeth. The current scientific consensus is that the teeth may be used for aggression between males of the same species. This hypothesis is consistent with the conic shape and wide spacing of the teeth. [ [http://www.whale-images.com/sperm_whale_facts.jsp Sperm Whale Facts] . Retrieved December 26, 2007.] Furthermore bull Sperm Whales often show scars which seem to be caused by the teeth of other bulls. Rudimentary teeth are also present in the upper jaw, but these rarely open into the mouth.

Sperm whales are among the most sexually dimorphic (that is, males and females differ greatly) of all cetaceans. Males are typically 30% to 50% longer (approximately convert|16|m|ft|lk=on) than females (approximately convert|11|m|ft|lk=on) and are three times as massive (41 000 kg vs. 14 000 kg, 45 short tons vs 15 short tons). At birth both males and females are about 4 m (13 ft) in length, with a mass of 1 000 kg (1 tonne).

The largest bull Sperm Whale verified and accurately measured was 20.5 m (67.9 ft) and 80 tonnes (88 tons). [Wood, The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. Sterling Pub Co Inc (1983), ISBN 978-0851122359] However, there is evidence of larger bulls than this. Owing to extensive whaling, Sperm Whale size may have decreased, as males were heavily exploited during the modern era, primarily after World War II. In a Nantucket museum there is a jawbone of a Sperm Whale which is 5.5 m (18 ft). The jawbone makes up 25% of the Sperm Whale's overall body length. Thus this whale might have been at most 23 m (72 ft) long, a mass of around 105 metric tons (118 short tons). Further evidence of larger bulls in the past resides in New Bedford museum, a 5.2 metres (17 ft) jaw of a bull that could have been about 21.7 metres (68 ft) long, with a maximum mass of about 100 tons. In addition, logbooks found in the Nantucket and New Bedford museums are filled with references to bulls that were, considering the amount of oil they yielded, about the same size as these two examples- although whalers were notorious for exaggerating the yield of oil and length of whales they caught. Today, Sperm Whale males do not usually exceed 18 m (60 ft) in length and 52 metric tons (57 short tons). The largest Sperm Whales observed are comparable in size to the fin whale (and smaller than blue whales), making the Sperm Whale either the second or third largest animal species alive.


Spermaceti is the semiliquid, waxy substance found in the head of the Sperm Whale. The name derives from the late Latin "sperma ceti" (both words actually loaned from Greek) meaning "sperm of the whale" (strictly, "sperm of the sea monster"). The common name for the species is actually an apocopation of Spermaceti Whale. Early beach-combers mistook the substance for the whale's semen. Spermaceti is found in the "spermaceti organ" or "case" in front of and above the skull of the whale and also in the so-called "junk" which is right at the front of the whale's head just above the upper jaw. The case consists of a soft white, waxy substance saturated with spermaceti. The junk is a more solid substance.

One function of the spermaceti organs is a buoyancy or diving organ. Before diving, cold water is brought through the organ and the wax is solidified. The increase in specific density generates a down force (approx 40 kg equiv) and allows the whale effortless sinking. During the chase in deep levels (max 3,000m) the stored oxygen is consumed and excess heat melts the spermaceti. Now only hydrodynamic forces (by swimming) keep the whale down before effortlessly surfacing.

Hypotheses on further functions exist: One incidentally discussed in "Moby-Dick" by Melville, is that the case evolved as a kind of battering ram for use in fights between males.cite web|url=http://autodax.net/Carrieretal2002.pdf|title=Spermaceti as battering ram?|format=PDF|accessdate=2007-03-19] This hypothesis is consistent with the well-documented sinking of the ships "Essex" and "Ann Alexander" due to attacks by Sperm Whales estimated to weigh only one-fifth as much as the ships.

Another possibility is that the case is used as an aid to echolocation (see melon).cite book|title=Sperm Whales Social Evolution in the Ocean|author=Whitehead, H.|year=2003|page=8–9|chapter=The Peculiar Anatomy of the Sperm Whale: The Spermaceti Organ|publisher=University of Chicago Press|isbn=0-226-89518-1] The shape of the organ at any given time is likely to focus or widen the beam of emitted sound. [http://www.spermwhale.org/SDSU/cranford.html spermwhale.org] - Cranford] The Sperm Whale actually has two nostrils — one external nostril, forming the blow hole, and one internal nostril pressing against the bag-like spermaceti container.

Spermaceti was much sought after by 18th, 19th and 20th century whalers. The substance found a variety of commercial applications, such as candles, soap, cosmetics, machine oil, other specialized lubricants, lamp oil, pencils, crayons, leather waterproofing, rust-proofing materials and many pharmaceutical compounds.cite book|title=The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals|author=Wilson, D.|page=300|year=1999|isbn=0774807628] cite web|title=The status of natural resources on the high seas|url=http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/highseas.pdf|author=The Southampton Oceanography Centre & A deFontaubert|publisher=IUCN|page=63|accessdate=2008-10-11] [cite book|title=A Dictionary of Mechanical Science, Arts, Manufactures, and Miscellaneous Knowledge|author=Jamieson, A.|year=1829|page=566|publisher=H. Fisher, Son & Co.] [cite web|title=Aquarium of the Pacific - Sperm Whale|url=http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/onlinelearningcenter/print/sperm_whale/|accessdate=2008-10-11]


The Sperm Whale is among the most cosmopolitan species in the world, and is found in all the oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.cite book|title=Whales Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals of the World|author=Shirihai, H. and Jarrett, B.|page=21–24|year=2006|isbn=0-691-12757-3] The species is relatively abundant from Arctic waters to the equator. Populations are more dense close to continental shelves and canyons, probably because of easier feeding. Sperm Whales are usually found in deep off-shore waters, but may be seen closer to shore in areas where the continental shelf is small, dropping quickly to 1,000 to 3,000 feet deep. Examples of areas close to the shore with significant Sperm Whale populations include the Azores and the Caribbean island of Dominica.

Ecology, behaviour and life history

Sperm whales are a prime example of a species that has been K-selected, a reproductive strategy associated with very stable environmental conditions that is characterized by a low birth rate, significant parental aid to offspring, slow maturation and high longevity. Females give birth once every four to six years, and the gestation period is between 14 and 16 months. Nursing takes place for two to three years. In males, puberty lasts for about ten years between the ages of about 10 and 20. Males continue to grow into their 30s and 40s and only reach their full size when about 50 years old. Sperm whales can live for more than 70 years. [cite book|title=Cetacean Societies|chapter=The Sperm Whale|author=Whitehead, H. & Weilgart, L.|editor=Mann, J., Connor, R., Tyack, P. & Whitehead, H.|year=2000|page=169|publisher=The University of Chicago Press|isbn=0-226-50341-0] [cite book|title=Guide to Marine Mammals of the World|author=Reeves, R., Stewart, B., Clapham, P. & Powell, J.|page=240–243|year=2003|isbn=0-375-41141-0]

The social structure of the Sperm Whales species divides on sexual lines. Females are extremely social animals. Females stay in groups of about a dozen individuals and their young. Males leave these "nursery schools" at somewhere between 4 and 21 years of age and join a "bachelor school" with other males of a similar age and size. As males grow older, they tend to disperse into smaller groups, and the oldest males typically live solitary lives. Yet mature males have been stranded on beaches together, suggesting a degree of co-operation not yet fully understood.

Few predators besides humans attack Sperm Whales. The most common attacker of Sperm Whales is the Orca, but pilot whales and the False Killer Whale also sometimes attack or harass Sperm Whales. [Pitman, RL; Ballance, LT; Mesnick, SI; Chivers, SJ (2001) "Killer whale predation on sperm whales: Observations and implications" "Marine Mammal Science" 17(3): 494-507 [http://md1.csa.com/partners/viewrecord.php?requester=gs&collection=ENV&recid=5136745&q=&uid=788845644&setcookie=yes Abstract] ] [cite book|title=Cetacean Societies|chapter=The Sperm Whale|author=Whitehead, H. & Weilgart, L.|editor=Mann, J., Connor, R., Tyack, P. & Whitehead, H.|year=2000|page=165|publisher=The University of Chicago Press|isbn=0-226-50341-0] Pods of transient Orcas frequently target groups of females with young, usually trying to separate the Sperm Whale calf and kill it. Often, the female Sperm Whales can repel these attacks by forming a circle with their calves in the centre. The adults either face inside the circle, in which case their tail flukes can be used to defend against the Orcas, or they face outside the circle, in which case their jaws are the principal defensive weapons. If the Orca pod is extremely large, they may sometimes also kill adult females. Large bull Sperm Whales have no non-human predators, as even Orcas could be killed by these aggressive, powerful creatures.


Sperm whales feed on several species, notably the Giant Squid, the Colossal Squid, krill, octopuss, and diverse fish like demersal rays, but the main part of their diet consists of medium sized squid.cite book|title=Sperm Whales Social Evolution in the Ocean|author=Whitehead, H.|year=2003|page=43–55|chapter=The Diet of a Sperm Whale: The Walnut, the Pea and the Half-Pound Steak|publisher=University of Chicago Press|isbn=0-226-89518-1] Most of what is known about deep sea squid has been learned from specimens found in captured Sperm Whale stomachs, although more recent studies have analysed fecal matter instead. One study, carried out around the Galápagos, found that squid from the genera "Histioteutbis" (62%), "Ancistrocbeirus" (16%), and "Octopoteutbis" (7%) were the most commonly taken, [Smith S., &Whitehead (2000) The Diet of Galapagos sperm whales "Physeter macrocephalus" as indicated by fecal sample analysis" "Marine Mammal Science" 16 (2) , 315–325 doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2000.tb00927.x ] and that most squid were between 12-650 kg in weight. An older study, examining the contents of whales captured by the New Zealand whaling fleet in the Cook Strait region, found a 1.69:1 ratio of squid to fish by weight. [GaskinD. & Cawthorn M. (1966) "Diet and feeding habits of the sperm whale ("Physeter macrocephalus" L.) in the Cook Strait region of New Zealand" "New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research" 2: 156-79 [http://www.rsnz.org/publish/nzjmfr/1967/15.pdf] ] Stealing of Sablefish and Toothfish from long lines has been documented and well known also (see below). Battles between Sperm Whales and colossal squid (which have been measured to weigh nearly 500 kg) have never been observed by humans, however white scars on the bodies of Sperm Whales are believed to be caused by squid. In one case three Sperm Whales were observed attacking or playing with a megamouth shark, a rare and large deep-sea species only discovered by man in the 1970s. [Compagno, L. J. V., (2001). Sharks of the world. An annotated andillustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Volume 2. Bullhead, mackerel and carpet sharks (Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes and Orectolobiformes). "FAO Species Catalogue for Fishery Purposes". 1 (2): Rome. Pp. 74-78 [ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/009/x9293e/x9293e00.pdf] ]

It is hypothesised that the sharp beak of a consumed squid lodged in the whale's intestine leads to the production of ambergris, analogous to the production of pearls. [Dannenfeldt K.H. (1982). "Ambergris: The Search for Its Origin" "Isis" 73(3): 382-397. [http://www.jstor.org/view/00211753/ap010218/01a00040/0 abstract] ] The irritation of the intestines caused by the beaks stimulates the secretion of this lubricant-like substance. Sperm whales are prodigious feeders and eat around 3% of their body weight per day. The total annual consumption of prey by Sperm Whales worldwide is estimated to be about 100 million tons — a figure greater than the total consumption of marine animals by humans each year. [Richard Ellis, "Monsters of the Sea", 1994, The Lyons Press, p. 245.]

It is difficult to see why the Sperm Whale has such a large head in comparison to the lower jaw. One theory explaining this is that the Sperm Whale's ability to echolocate through its head aids in hunting. Within the head, it contains a structure called monkey lips, which it blows air through. This can create clicks that have a source level exceeding 230 dB re 1 micropascal referenced to a distance of 1 metre. [B. Møhl M. Wahlberg, P. T. Madsen, A. Heerfordt and A. Lund, The monopulsed nature of sperm whale clicks, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 114, 1143-1153 (2003).] It has been hypothesised that these were directed at prey in order to stun them, however experimental studies attempting to duplicate this effect have been unable to replicate the supposed injuries, and have cast doubt on this idea. [Benoit-Bird K. Au W. & Kastelein R. (2006) "Testing the odontocete acoustic prey debilitation hypothesis: No stunning results". " The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America" 120 (2): 1118-1123 ( [http://scitation.aip.org/getabs/servlet/GetabsServlet?prog=normal&id=JASMAN000120000002001118000001&idtype=cvips&gifs=yes Abstract] )]

Long-line fishing operations in the Gulf of Alaska have complained that numerous Sperm Whales have taken advantage of their fishing operations to eat desirable species straight off the line, sparing the whales the need to hunt them themselves. However, the amount of fish taken is very little compared to what the Sperm Whale needs per day. New video footage has been captured of a large male Sperm Whale "bouncing" a long line, to gain the fish. [cite web|url=http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/archives/05-06/mar18.html#3|title=Whale Buffet|accessdate=2007-03-19]

Diving and breathing

Dominica] Sperm whales, along with bottlenose whales and elephant seals, are the deepest-diving mammals in the world. Sperm whales are believed to be able to dive up to 3 km (1.9 miles) in depth and 90 minutes in duration to the ocean floor. More typical dives are around convert|400|m|ft|lk=on in depth and 35 minutes in duration. They carry three tonnes of blood which holds enough oxygen to help it achieve its diving depth.

The physiology of the Sperm Whale has several adaptations to cope with drastic changes in pressure when diving. The ribcage is flexible to allow lung collapse, and the heart rate can decrease to preserve oxygen supplies. Myoglobin stores oxygen in muscle tissue. Blood can be directed towards the brain and other essential organs only, when oxygen levels deplete. The spermaceti organ may also play a role (see above).

Because of the great depths to which they dive, Sperm Whales sometimes drown when entangled in transoceanic telephone cables. [The Southwestern Company: "The Volume Library 1", page 65, 1987, ISBN 0-87197-208-5]

While Sperm Whales are well adapted to diving, repeated dives to great depths do have long term effects on the whales. Skeletons of Sperm Whales show pitting of the bones that is often a sign of decompression sickness in humans. Skeletons of the oldest whales showed the most extensive pitting, whereas skeletons of Sperm Whale calves showed no damage. This damage may indicate that Sperm Whales are susceptible to decompression sickness, and sudden surfacing could be lethal to them.cite journal | author=Moore MJ, Early GA | title=Cumulative sperm whale bone damage and the bends | journal=Science | volume=306 | issue=5705 | year=2004 | pages=2215 | pmid=15618509 | doi=10.1126/science.1105452]

Between dives, the Sperm Whale will come up to the surface to breathe for about eight minutes before diving again. Odontoceti (toothed whales) breathe air at the surface of the water through a single, s-shaped blowhole. The blowhole is located on the left side of the front of the head. Sperm whales spout (breathe) 3–5 times per minute at rest, but the rate increases to 6–7 times per minute after a dive. The blow is a noisy, single stream that rises up to 15 m (50 ft) above the surface of the water and points forward and to the left of the whale at a 45° angle. On average, females and immatures blow every 12.5 seconds before dives, while large males blow every 17.5 seconds before dives.cite book|title=Sperm Whales Social Evolution in the Ocean|author=Whitehead, H.|year=2003|page=156–161|chapter=Foraging|publisher=University of Chicago Press|isbn=0-226-89518-1]

Taxonomy and naming

The Sperm Whale is one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in 1758 in his 18th century work, "Systema Naturae"; he recognised four species in the genus "Physeter". [la icon cite book | last=Linnaeus | first=C | authorlink=Carolus Linnaeus | title=Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. | publisher=Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii). | date=1758| pages=824 | url= ] Experts soon realised that just one such species exists, although its correct name is a matter of dispute (see below). However, most scientists, the International Code for Zoological Nomenclature, and the International Whaling Commission prefer "P. macrocephalus" over "P. catodon". [cite book|title=Sperm Whales Social Evolution in the Ocean|author=Whitehead, H.|year=2003|page=3|isbn=0-226-89518-1]

The Sperm Whale is the sole extant species of its genus, "Physeter", which is placed in the family Physeteridae. Two species of the related extant genus "Kogia", the Pygmy Sperm Whale "Kogia breviceps" and the Dwarf Sperm Whale "K. simus", are sometimes also placed in this family, or else are placed in their own family, Kogiidae. [MSW3 Cetacea|id=14300126]

The correct scientific name for the Sperm Whale is currently unclear. Until 1974 the species was generally known as "P. catodon", however in that year Husson & Holthuis [Husson, A.M. & Holthuis, L.B. (1974). "Physeter macrocephalus" Linnaeus, 1758, the valid name for the Sperm Whale. "Zoologische Mededelingen" 48: 205-217.] proposed that the correct name should be "P. macrocephalus", the second name in the genus "Physeter" published by Linnaeus concurrently with "P. catodon", on the grounds that the names were synonyms published simultaneously and therefore the ICZN principle of "First Reviser" should apply, in this instance leading to the choice of "P. macrocephalus" over "P. catodon", a view re-stated in Holthuis, 1987 [Holthuis, L. B. (1987). The scientific name of the sperm whale. "Marine Mammal Science" 3(1): 87-89.] . This has been adopted by some subsequent authors, however Schevill (1986 [Schevill, W.E. (1986). The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature and a paradigm: the name "Physeter catodon" Linnaeus 1758. "Marine Mammal Science" 2(2): 153-157.] and 1987 [Schevill, W.E. (1987). Reply to L. B. Holthuis "The scientific name of the sperm whale", "Marine Mammal Science" 3(1): 89-90.] ) argued that "macrocephalus" was published with an inaccurate description and that therefore only the species "catodon" was valid, rendering the principle of "First Reviser" inapplicable. At the present time, the name "P. catodon" is used in the most high profile species information systems, for example the [http://www.catalogueoflife.org/annual-checklist/show_species_details.php?record_id=3874214 Catalogue of Life] and the [http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=137118 World Register of Marine Species] , however some other sources use "P. macrocephalus", for example in the [http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/41755/all IUCN Red List of Threatened Species] and in various papers and book chapters, e.g. Whitehead, 2002; therefore, to retrieve maximum relevant information, it is currently advisable to search under both names. According to the relevant species page on [http://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=180489 ITIS] , the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, "Physeter catodon and Physeter macrocephalus are awaiting a ruling regarding their usage by the ICZN".

The following is an extract from Melville's Moby-Dick, in which he expatiates about the vernacular naming and common lore surrounding the Sperm Whale:


Sperm whales are believed to have diverged from other toothed whales early in the evolution of the suborder—around 20 million years ago, and a number of fossil genera and species have been described from the Late Oligocene period and beyond [Stucky, R. E. & McKenna, M. C. (1993). Mammalia. Pp. 739-771 in Benton, M. J. ed.: The Fossil Record 2. Chapman & Hall, London.] [cite book|author=Mchedlidze. G. A.|year=2002|chapter=Sperm whales, evolution|page=1172-1174|editor=Perrin, W. F., Würsic, B. & Thewissen, J. G. M.|title=Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals|publisher=Academic Press, San Diego|isbn=0-12-551340-2] (refer main article Sperm whale family).

Relationship with humans

Cultural importance

The teeth of Sperm Whales, when mounted on rope, are important cultural objects in Fiji, where they are known as tabua. They were traditionally given as gifts for atonement or esteem (called "sevusevu"), and were important in negotiations between rival chiefs. [Arno A. (2005). "Cobo and tabua in Fiji: Two forms of cultural currency in an economy of sentiment". "American Ethnologist", 32(1): 46 – 62 [http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=16581746 Abstract] ] Today the tabua remains an important item in Fijian life. The teeth were originally rare in Fiji and Tonga (which exported the teeth), however with the arrival of Europeans the market was flooded with teeth, so many that it collapsed. The oversupply led in turn to the development of the European art of scrimshaw. [cite book | author=Constantine, R.| editor=Perrin, W., Würsig, B. & Thewissen, J. | title=Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals | publisher=Academic Press |chapter=Folklore and Legends| page =449| year=2002 | id=ISBN 0-12-551340-2]

The Sperm Whale is also the state animal of Connecticut. [cite web|title=Connecticut State Animals|url=http://www.stateanimals.com/states/connecticut/index.html|accessdate=2008-10-11]

Population and hunting

The number of Sperm Whales throughout the world is unknown. Crude estimates, obtained by surveying small areas and extrapolating the result to all the world's oceans, range from 200,000 to 2,000,000 individuals. Although the Sperm Whale was hunted for several centuries for its meat, oil and spermaceti, the conservational outlook for Sperm Whales is brighter than that for many other whales. Although a small-scale coastal fishery still occurs in Indonesia, they are protected practically worldwide. Fishermen do not catch the deep-sea creatures that Sperm Whales eat, and the deep sea is likely to be more resistant to pollution than surface layers.

In June 1821, a Sperm Whale claimed to be about 25.9 m (85 ft) long attacked the Nantucket whaleship "Essex". Only 8 out of the 21 sailors managed to survive and be rescued by other ships. [cite web|title=The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex|url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/classic/A671492|publisher=BBC|accessdate=2008-10-11]

However, the recovery from the whaling years is a slow process, particularly in the South Pacific, where the toll on males of a breeding age was severe.

Watching Sperm Whales

Sperm whales are not the easiest of whales to watch, due to their long dive times and ability to travel long distances underwater. However, due to the distinctive look and large size of the whale, watching is increasingly popular. Sperm whale watchers often use hydrophones to listen to the clicks of the whales and locate them before they surface. Popular locations for Sperm Whale watching include the picturesque Kaikoura on New Zealand's South Island, where the continental shelf is so narrow that whales can be observed from the shore, Andenes and Tromsø in Arctic Norway and at the Azores where it can be seen throughout the year. [cite web|title=Whale and dolphin watching in the Azores|url=http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/whales/azores/|publisher=Wildlife Extra|accessdate=2008-09-26] Dominica is believed to be the only Caribbean island with a year-round residential pod of females and calves. [cite web|title=Whale Watching Dominica|url=http://www.dominica.dm/site/whalewatching.cfm|accessdate=2008-09-26]

In the news

In July 2003 a huge blob of white flesh was found washed up on a beach on the coast of southern Chile. The 12-metre (40 ft) long mass of gelatinous tissuecite web|url=http://zapatopi.net/cephnews/chileanblob.html|title=ZPi Cephalopod News: a blob 12 m long, 5.8 m wide, 1.6 m high was found near Puerto Montt in Los Muermos, Chile|accessdate=2007-03-19] gave rise to speculation that a previously unknown giant octopus had been discovered. However, researchers at the Museum of Natural History, Santiago concluded that the mass was in fact the innards of a Sperm Whale, a conclusion drawn by looking at the dermal glands. When a Sperm Whale dies, its internal organs rot, until the animal becomes little more than a semi-liquid mass trapped inside the skin. Eventually, the skin will burst, causing the internal mass to float free and possibly wash up on the beach.cite web|url=http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/01/040122083507.htm|title=Unravelling the mystery of the white mass on the Chilean beach|accessdate=2007-03-19]

Dead Sperm Whales float towards shore quite often. Apart from the disposal issues identified above, beach managers fear that sharks, in particular the great white shark, will be attracted towards the beach by the rotting flesh, and potentially cause danger to beach users. For this reason, dead Sperm Whales are often towed out to sea before they become properly beached. This occurred twice in May 2004, once off Oahu in Hawaii where a dead whale was towed out convert|35|mi|km to sea but floated back to shore two days later.cite web|url=http://www.kpua.net/news.php?id=2148|title=Whale washed-up in Oahu|accessdate=2007-03-19]

Exploding whales

Perhaps the most famous piece of Sperm Whale lore dates from 1970, when a long-dead, 8 short ton (7.25 tonne), 45 foot (13.7 m) long specimen came to a beach in Oregon. For a time, it was a curiosity to local residents. As the beach is public right-of-way, it was the duty of the Oregon Department of Transportation to dispose of it. They filled the animal with a half-ton of dynamite. On Thursday, November 12, the dynamite was set off, but the blast did not go toward the Pacific as planned. No one was hurt, but a car was crushed by falling blubber. Onlookers were covered with noxious-smelling bits of dead whale.cite web|url=http://www.snopes.com/critters/disposal/whale.htm|title=On Oregon's exploding whale|accessdate=2007-03-19] cite web|url=http://www.perp.com/whale/|title=Film of Oregon's exploding whale|accessdate=2007-03-19]

January 2004 saw a more dramatic entry of the Sperm Whale into the global media spotlight. A dead specimen of the whale, 17 metres long and weighing 50 tonnes, had washed up on a local beach in Tainan City, Taiwan. On being transported to a university in the city, gas pressure from decomposition built up inside the body, causing an explosion. Nobody was hurt, but blood and entrails were spread over several cars and surrounding pedestrians.cite web|url=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4096586/|title=Account from MSNBC|accessdate=2007-03-19]


In March 2007, a Japanese fisherman drowned after his boat was capsized by a panicked Sperm Whale he was trying to rescue. The whale had wandered into the relatively shallow waters in a bay in Shikoku.cite news | title =Whale kills would-be rescuer in Japan | work = Reuters | language =English | publisher = Reuters | date =2007-03-13 | url =http://www.reuters.com/article/oddlyEnoughNews/idUST3442220070313 ]


* [http://www.candlecomfort.com/historyofcandles.html Spermaceti in candles] July 22, 2007
* [http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/98/13/7384 Retroposon analysis of major cetacean lineages: The monophyly of toothed whales and the paraphyly of river dolphins] June 19, 2001


External links

* [http://web.archive.org/web/www.70south.com/resources/antarctic-animals/whales 70South - information on the Sperm Whale]
* [http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=190 MarineBio: Sperm Whale, "Physeter catodon"]
* [http://www.newsday.com/community/guide/lihistory/ny-history-hs9phys,0,4763989.story?coll=ny-lihostory-navigation "Physty"-stranded Sperm Whale nursed back to health and released in 1981]
* [http://www.mobydickthewhale.com/moby-dick/moby-dick-chapter-32.htm Cetology of the Sperm Whale from "Moby-Dick"] Herman Melville
* [http://www.uwrf.edu/biology/electives_dir/444_dir/VSmith/Page1.html The physiology of the deep diving adaptations of whales]
* [http://www.arkive.org/species/GES/mammals/Physeter_macrocephalus/ ARKive] Photographs, video.

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