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Sperm Whale

Updated on February 25, 2016

Scientific Name: Physeter macrocephalus

Sperm Whale Description

The Sperm Whale gets the recognition as the largest of all toothed whales out there in the world. It is one that blows people away due to the sheer size of it. Many people don’t realize that these animals are able to create oil in their heads which is where that name comes from. This type of oil is called Spermaceti and unfortunately it is one reason why many of them were killed over the past several decades.

When most of us think of the Sperm Whale we can’t help but think about the story of Moby Dick. That gray colored whale was part of a fascinating tale and one that continues to be read by many generations. For many people, it is the first introduction that they have to this particular type of whale. Many people simply can’t believe that a creature of this size lives in our oceans though.

Sperm Whale Anatomy

 It is this fascination with their size though that brings them so much attention. They are about 60 feet long when they are mature with a weight of about 20 tons. The fact that a creature can move through the water with that much weight on it though is due to the overall design of the body and the fact that the water helps to make objects weightless.

The square head of the Sperm Whale helps it to move through the water with less resistance. They have only one blow hole at the top which is how they are able to take in air at the surface. You will notice that they don’t feature a dorsal fin like most species of whales do. Instead there is a type of hump in its place that helps with balance and navigation through the water.

The flippers are about five feet long and they help this enormous creature to be able to move through the water as well. Taking a look at the teeth of this giant and you will quickly see why it is able to consume large amounts of food every day in the waters where they live. Many people find Sperm Whale teeth on the shore but mistake them for those that belong to sharks.

Sperm Whale Evolution

 The exact process that the Sperm Whale went through for evolution isn’t known, but the information we do have indicates they have been around for more than 25 million years. They fall into a category of aquatic life that are believed to once have been walking on Earth. They had appendages instead of the flippers that they have today. They also were smaller in size. They are believed to have evolved into water animals in order to be able to successfully survive.

Sperm Whale Behavior

 Sperm Whales are fascinating to watch when it comes to their interactions with each other. They form pods of up to 25 individuals, and they will stay in that pod from birth until death. They form strong bonds with each other and there is very little conflict that emerges within those pods. 

A variety of verbal and non verbal communication takes place among them. There are quite a few different sounds that they make but that researchers haven’t fully been able to understand yet. It is believed that most of them though are reflective to emotions that humans exhibit as well. The will gently touch each other for affection, support, and to help guide each other.

They are slow moving creatures, at a pace of about 3 miles per hour. They are known to move faster if they need to, but most of them have a very leisurely life. They are either at the top of the water where they relax, called logging or they are at the bottom of the ocean feeding.

Sperm Whale Habitat

You will find Sperm Whales in all of the bodies of oceans around the world. They tend to stick more to the warmer locations though. Many studies though from experts show that the males may actually prefer cooler waters than the females. They will go to the warmer waters though in order to remain with their pod.

The females are avid protectors of the young, so one theory is that the offspring don’t have enough blubber yet for them to be able to do well in the colder temperatures. That is why the females are less likely to travel into those areas as they are very nurturing.

Sperm Whale Feeding Habits

 There is plenty of food out there waiting for Sperm Whales at the bottom of the ocean. There they will feed on tons of krill, fish, octopus, and eels. They are very opportunistic so they will take whatever comes their way. They have to be able to get their food quickly without using up much energy to do so. It is believed that some of the sounds that they make are to attract food so that they can consume it without having to chase after it. This is just one more of the ways in which these whales have been able to successfully adapt to the environment around them.

They can consume up to one ton of food each day when they are full grown. They often hunt in groups within their pod to help ensure there is plenty of food to go around. The females generally hunt in shifts so that some can stay to care for the young offspring. Those that are nursing need to feed well so that they produce gallons of milk for the young to consume. This will take place for the first couple of years of life.

These young Sperm Whales don’t have enough lung capacity to dive with the pod to the bottom of the ocean for food. As they are ready to consume fish and other items they will have it delivered to them by females in the pod.

Sperm Whale Reproduction

 As I mentioned, the pods are very helpful and very intuitive with each other. The females even help with the delivery of the offspring. This isn’t very common in nature at all and shows the level of dedication and intelligence that these animals happen to possess. They are amazing when it comes to showing their young with attention and with nurturing them so that they have the very best chance of survival.

It is this dedication to caring for the young that results in the Sperm Whales only giving birth once every three or four years. This is a very slow rate of reproduction compared to other animals. There is a great deal about the entire reproduction process though that isn’t readily known. It is believed that the reproduce when they migrate though and never with members of their own pod.

Sperm Whale Predators

There are a couple of predators that the Sperm Whale needs to be aware of. They include the Killer Whale and some types of sharks. As food supplies for them become smaller they will continue to consume more of the Sperm Whales. Of course that is a big animal to take down so they will focus their attention on the young or those that are sick so that they can easily take control of them.

For many decades though the biggest predator of the Sperm Whale were humans. It is no secret that large numbers of these animals have been killed for the oil that they made in their heads. Today that oil use has been replaced by man made elements though so this isn’t as common of an occurrence as it once was. Still, hunting them for sport or so there isn’t so much of the fisherman’s catch being taken away continues.

There is believed to be approximately 200,000 Sperm Whales left in the world. That may seem like a lot but when you consider how slowly they reproduce, the destruction of their natural environment, and other factors they are on the list of endangered species.





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  • laurentmikhail profile image

    Laurent Mikhail 7 years ago from Miami, FL

    Yes, you are right! The blue whale is the largest whale and the sperm whale is the largest toothed whale.

    The blue whale is a baleen whale, not toothed.

  • profile image

    George 7 years ago

    the blue whale is the largest whale in the ocean, not the sperm whale