The Sperm whale is not a novel's creation!Who would have thought that a whale specie would have found fame in the literary world and tourism? From sea monster to tourist attraction, one thing is certain, nowadays, people have come to the same conclusion: "The Sperm whale is not a novel's creation!"
The Sperm whale has not only attracted people's attention for its attacks on whaling ships such as the Essex and the Ann Alexander, but also for numerous other reasons.
This intriguing marine mammal is not an easy one to study or observe as it can be submerged for as long a 2 hours and travels great distances during that time. In fact, a lot of tourists and scientists use hydrophones to locate their position prior to them surfacing to take a breath. Such long diving periods make it difficult for experts to get to know them better, which explains the lack of information and especially data to fill up surveys on the estimated population of the Sperm whale.
Now here are more facts about this marine mammal. The Sperm whale a.k.a. Common Cachalot belongs to the suborder of Odontoceti, which means "toothed whale". In fact, it is the largest toothed mammal alive. Cachalot comes from the Portuguese word "cachalote", which means "head".
The name "Sperm" whale actually comes from the spermaceti found in the head of the whale which was a white, waxy semi liquid. Years ago, whalers thought that such a mixture was in fact the sperm of the whale, which became the whale's name. Of course, spermaceti has nothing to do with sperm and its use for both whale and humans are quite different from that idea.
In fact, spermaceti is believed to have various possible purposes. One of the purposes of the spermaceti is buoyancy. Prior to diving, the Sperm whale sends cold water to solidify the spermaceti into a 40 kg mass to provide a diving force. At approximately 3km, the oxygen is used and the heat melts the spermaceti. At that point, the whale is able to stay down by swimming. When the Sperm whale wants to go back to the surface effortlessly, the semi-liquid spermaceti offers that well needed buoyancy.
Another possible function of the spermaceti is for males to ram when fighting other males. In fact, this technique was used in the sinking the following ships: the Essex and the Ann Alexander.
A third function of the spermaceti would be its suspected use in echolocation. It would have the same use as a dolphin's melon. The shape and width of this organ would allow a good beam to help focus on emitted sounds.
The last function is the production of various sounds by using a combination of the flexibility of the spermaceti, which can change shapes, the shape of the skull, the three-dimensional shape of the muscle surrounding the spermaceti as well as the presence of the internal nostril. In fact, the volume level of these sounds can be compared to the shot of a rifle located three feet away from your ear.
Now, let's describe this marine mammal! This type of whale has a particularly large head that can reach up to one third of the length of the body of this marine mammal. Contrary to other whale species, its skin has the texture of a prune, unlike its cousins which are known to have a smoother skin. Although its skin may seem brownish in the sunlight, it is in fact grey. It has no dorsal fin but instead, it has ridges and a caudal fin, which is also referred to as the "hump".
The Sperm whale has one blowhole which is located closer to the front of the head and more on the left side. It is shaped like an S. When surfacing, the whale can spout or breathe between 3 to 5 times when resting and about 6 or 7 times following a dive. When blowing the water out, the single stream can reach up to 15 m (50 feet) in height and is projected at a 45° angle.
The flukes are triangular and can be observed out of the water just before a dive. The lower jaw of a Sperm whale has between 20 and 26 cone-shaped teeth. The upper jaw has no teeth. The purpose of the teeth is not officially known as they are not necessary to eat squid and octopus. The wide spaces between each tooth tend to confirm the fact that their use is mostly for aggression purposes against other males in order to prove their dominance over them. In fact, some whales have been found toothless. Another interesting fact about the jaw bone is that it represents between 20% and 25% of the length of the whale's body.
Although at birth, both males and females are about 4m (13 feet) in length and a weight of 1,000 kg (1 ton), the similarities in size stops there. In fact, if you compare males and females, males are usually between 30% and 50% larger than females. An adult male will measure approximately 16 m and 18 m (52-59 feet) in length and will reach a weight of 50,000 kg (55 short tons). On the other hand, an adult female will measure between 12 m and 14 m (39-46 feet) in length and will reach a weight of 25,000 kg (27.5 short tons).
The Sperm whale reaches matures slowly, has a low birth rate and a high longevity. Males' puberty lasts approximately 10 years and will happen between the age of 10 and 20 years old. They will reach their full size at approximately 50 years and Sperm whales are known to reach up to 80 years of age. Females give birth every 4 to 6 years. The gestation lasts between 12 and 18 months. Nursing will last between 2 and 3 years in length.
Here are some world records held by the Sperm whale. It is the loudest animal in the world. It has the largest brain in the world as it weights about 7 kg (15 lbs) but as you can see, it does not seem that huge when you consider the size of the animal. It is also the largest living toothed mammal. It is also the largest living carnivore. Finally, it is the mammal that can dive at the deepest depths (2,200 m or 7,200 feet) and during the longest time (up to 2 hours).
Its diet is consisting mainly of medium sized and giant squid, octopus and various types of fish. Sperm whales have been found scarred by the suckers of giant squids.
This whale specie is known as one of the most cosmopolitan creatures as it lives in all oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea.
The conservation status of the Sperm whale is vulnerable. Since surveys are not an easy task to accomplish with these marine mammals, their population's estimate varies between 200,000 and 2,000,000 individuals.
The best regions where Sperm whales can be observed during whale watching tours are: Kaikoura on New Zealand's South Island, in Andenes and Tromso which are located in Arctic Norway, the Azores which are Portuguese island as well as Dominica, a Caribbean island.
Although this whale specie has been particularly decimated in the South Pacific region due to the whaling practices over the last centuries, its fate is not considered to be as bad as other whale species such as the Blue whale and the Fin whale. Whaling was popular in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries as Sperm whales were quiet in demand for their meat, oil and spermaceti. The spermaceti was used in the making of various products such as: detergent, cosmetics, glycerin, additives in motor oils and so much more.
The Sperm whale has few predators as their size and brute strength are huge obstacles to overcome. While humans are their number one predator, orcas are definitely occupying the second place. Since they hunt in pods, they usually attack females with calves as they are seen as weaker targets. They will try to isolate the calf in order to kill it. The female usually fights back small pods of orcas by circling her calf and hitting them with her tail, unfortunately larger pods of orcas are known to kill both female and calf as they outnumber them. Males have no predators beside humans as orcas could get killed easily during the attack.
As you can see, the Sperm whale is a fascinating animal. Experts are still learning from this marine mammal. Let's protect this whale specie in order to avoid its extinction.
Moby Dick, Jonas or even Gepetto may have made the Sperm whale famous in the literary world but one thing is certain, the Sperm whale is not a novel's creation!