Sperm Whale

Physeter macrocephalus

Introduction to Sperm Whale

The Sperm Whale is a Toothed Whale species. They have the largest brain of any animals in the world! They are also the largest of all the Toothed Whales.

Sperm Whale Description

Full grown adults can be up to 67 feet in length. They can also weigh as much as 127,000 pounds. It is believed that they may have once been larger than that, but that excessive whaling may have reduced their size over time. However, this is only a theory and hasn’t been confirmed. The males are longer and weight a bit more than the females.

Class Mammalia
Order Cetacea
Suborder Odontoceti
Family Physeteridae
Genus Physeter
Conservation Status Vulnerable

Due to the unique appearance of their body, the Sperm Whale isn’t likely to be confused with any other species. The head is large and shaped like a block. It can be about 1/3 of their entire body size. They have a blowhole that is shaped like and S and it is very close to the front part of the head. The flukes are thick and shaped like triangles. They have a large ridge on the back which is often mistaken for a dorsal fin due to the size and shape it offers.

While most whales feature smooth skin, The Sperm Whale has skin that is very wrinkled along the back. It is dark gray in color but may appear to be brown due to the sunlight. There are a few that have the albino white color to them. They feature 18 to 26 teeth on each side of the lower jaw. These teeth are shaped like a cone and can each weigh around 2 pounds. The males often use their teeth to fight each other for mating rights, and many of them have scars on their bodies showing such battles over time.

Sperm Whale Distribution

They are found in all of the oceans around the world, and tend to stick to the deeper waters. They don’t often go to the polar ice areas though. They tend to stick to areas that are tropical and temperate. They have been seen in small numbers around the Gulf of Mexico. One of the risks to them is getting too close to shore as they may get stranded due to a low tide. They tend to stay in water that is at least 2,000 feet deep. It is very seldom that you will see them in water that is less than 900 feet deep.

Migration may occur annually, but it really depends on where they normally reside. Many of the Sperm Whales will remain in the same location all year long. For others, it can be quite a long journey but they are able to move quickly in spite of their enormous size.

Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale Skeleton / Author: Richard Lydekker

Sperm Whale Behavior

The females are more social than the males. They tend to stay in groups of about 12 with their offspring. The males often form loose bachelor groups or they will live alone. Those that are fully mature almost always live solitary with the exception of looking for a mate. Males may roam around on their own but they see a pod and attach themselves to the outer edges for a period of time.

They are vocal and use a variety of clangs to communicate with each other. They are also known to whistle, chirp, and squeak. They also rely on echolocation for interactions. This allows sounds that travel in the water to tell them the distance of objects, other whales, and more. They can dive very deeply, and may remain under the water for up to 1 hour. However, they typically will come up for air every 20 minutes. They can dive up to 2 miles deep.

Sperm Whale Feeding

The main diet source for the Sperm Whale is squid. They also consume octopus and various types of deep water fish. They will consume small sharks too. They tend to consume about 3% of their body weight daily. They rely on echolocation to assist them with finding their prey. While they do have lots of teeth, their swallow their prey whole.

Sperm Whale Reproduction

For females, maturity for mating occurs when they are about 29 feet long. This occurs around 9 years of age. For males, they won’t take part in mating until they are from 10 to 20 years old. There are breeding schools created during the mating season. This consists of several males and several females that are mature for mating.

It takes from 14 to 16 months after mating for the young calf to be born. They can be up to 13 feet when they are born and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. They will consume milk from their mother for several years. However, they will also be introduced to other food sources before they are 1 year old. The rate of reproduction is slower for the Sperm Whale than for any other species. They will only produce 1 calf every 2 to 5 years.

Sperm Whale Conservation Status and Threats

Being commercially exploited has been a huge problem or the Sperm Whale. There are records of them being heavily hunted that date back to the early 1700s. Parts of their bodies were used widely in the perfume industry. In Japan, it is still sought today for the value of the meat they offer. Even though it is illegal to hunt them, it continues in various regions.

Problems with collisions with vessels and getting tangled up in commercial fishing equipment is very common. The fact that the males don’t mate until much later in life and the females offer offspring at a slow rate really does make it very difficult to increase their numbers. Pollution in the water is a problem that can create serious issues and kill large numbers of them.

Issues with lots of noise in the water can create problems for the Sperm Whale when it comes to finding food sources and communication since they rely on echolocation. High levels of stress can also reduce efforts among them to reproduce. Still, they are believed to have the highest population of any of the Great Whales. There are approximately 1,500,000 of the in the wild.

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