The oceans are a natural heritage and home to the planet’s most fascinating creatures. Among them is the endangered sperm whale. Let’s get to know these incredible mammals of the deep a little better.
What’s in a Name?
If you’re wondering how the sperm whale got its name, join the club. But it’s not what you probably think it is. The odd name comes from the white substance produced inside the whale’s head. Early whalers assumed the waxy material had a reproductive function – thus, dubbing it “spermaceti” or “whale seed” in Latin.
Scientists still aren’t sure what the substance does. Some believe that spermaceti protects the brains of males who keep butting heads (quite literally) during mating season. Others say the sticky substance may regulate a sperm whale’s buoyancy.
This giant sea mammal eats just about anything – sharks, fish, and skates. But squid is a favorite and features prominently on a sperm whale’s diet. Male sperm whales can eat 300 -400 squid every day. On the other hand, females can gobble up anywhere between 700 – 800 squid daily.
Sperm whales are agile despite their size. They can dive to depths over 3280 feet and go 90 minutes between breaths.
Female sperm whales live and travel in close-knit communities. Younger whales learn from the females about how to thrive as adults. On the other hand, males lead solitary lives once they reach maturity. They prefer swimming independently or tend to change groups.
Sperm whales talk to each other
Sperm whale pods keep in touch through long-distance clicks on diving trips. Each one has a unique inflection that allows whales to tell one click apart from the other.
Dead sperm whales can explode
Gases inside a decaying sperm whale’s body can build up until they rip through flesh and explode. Many news reports over the years show sperm whale cadavers splattering entrails all over busy streets or beaches.
Moby-Dick is based on a true story about an angry sperm whale
Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” is an enduring American classic. But few people know that the novel isn’t entirely fiction. Melville drew upon a real-life incident when an enraged sperm whale rammed into a whaling ship called The Essex in the South Pacific. The whale left the ship beaten and battered, forcing the crew to abandon it. Survivors traveled 300 miles across unforgiving waters. Several perished, and those who survived resorted to cannibalism before getting rescued near Chile.