facts about sperm whale

15 Interesting Facts About Sperm Whale The Largest Toothed Whale

Whales are gigantic mammals who live in the sea, which are one of the biggest animals in the sea. As a majestic creature with unbelievable size and beautiful sounds, being able to witness a whale sighting becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people. In this article, let’s focus on Sperm Whales, which is one of the biggest whale among its kind. In this article, we have 15 amazing facts about Sperm Whale that will definitely amaze you.

Do you know that Sperm Whale has the biggest brain compared to other animals in the world? It also has large teeth and a series of extra-large things that no other animals have, except them. Just like other whales, Sperm Whale has an intimidating aura when they show up to the surface. Well, we won’t let curiosity kills the cat, so let’s jump in to this list to find more amazing facts about Sperm Whale.

1. Sperm Whale is Misnamed Since the Early 19th Century.

Let’s start with the first fact in this list of 15 facts about Sperm Whale. Sperm Whale got its name not from its shape or mating habit. The name was given because of the substances on the whale’s head that were mistakenly assumed as the whale’s sperm. The substances have a similar color and texture to semen have been misleading everyone in the early 19th century.

It is actually spermaceti oil, a waxy liquid substance that helps the whales to control their buoyancy when diving. Even though experts know that they misname the sperm whale, there is no change in their naming. However, the Sperm Whale has another name, which is Cachalot, and it was taken from an ancient French word for big teeth, which pictures its appearance.

2. It Has Asymmetrical Skull

The sperm whale is the largest whale with tooth that uses echolocation to get food. And because of echolocation, they have an asymmetrical skull. Researchers study the toothed whales’ heads, and they got detailed information about the asymmetry in the whale’s skull.

They use 84 living and 78 extinct cetaceans from 50 million years ago. They find out that toothed whales are the only groups of animals with asymmetry skulls as a natural condition. Due to echolocation, the soft tissue has evolved and caused the skull to change into a crooked skull.

3. There are No Teeth on Sperm Whale’s Upper Teeth

As the largest toothed whales, it’s natural for sperm whales to have the most prominent teeth. However, they have teeth on the lower jaw and only teeth sockets on the upper jaw. The socket fits the lower teeth, consisting of 18-25 large teeth on each side of the jaw.

This particular jaw condition perfectly adapts to the sperm whale’s feeding habit. They can easily slurp up their food, such as giant squids, sharks, skates, and other aquatic animals.

4. Sperm Whale Baby is Called Calf

A calf is an animal baby term for ground mammal baby and sea mammal baby like sperm whale’s baby. Sperm whales give birth to only one enormous calf with approximately 1-ton weight and 3,4-4,9m length at a time. Even though adult sperm whales love to stay in the deep sea, the calves cannot do the long dives yet.

Therefore, the mothers usually form tight bonds in a group to take turns taking care of their calves while the other mother is hunting for food. Like other mammals, the calves drink milk from their mother but in quite complicated maneuver moves.

The calves nurse up to two years or longer until they can hunt independently. Male sperm whales usually leave their pod when they turn four years old and join groups of their ages.

5. The Sound of Sperm Whale is The Loudest Sounds in the World

Sperm whales perform echolocation, a technique to determine the location of objects using reflected sound, dive, and find food. Because their main meals are staying in the deep sea, they produce loud sounds. 

Sperm whales generate clicking sounds up to 233 decibels making them the loudest animal on earth. They also use clicking sounds to communicate with each other. Their clicks are so powerful to blow out human eardrums easily or vibrate humans to death, as human blood pressure and respiratory rates can change if exposed to infrasound above 110 decibels.

6. Waste Products from Sperm Whales are Valuable

Sperm whales produce spermaceti oils on their head, which were once mistakenly assumed as the whale’s semen. The clear fluid oil comes from the junk and then solidifies to a whitish wax. During the industrial period, people used whale oil for heating, lubrication, soap, candle wax, the processing of textiles and rope, and the most valuable usage as the fuel source for lamps.

Besides whale oil, sperm whales also serve another valuable waste, ambergris. The whale’s vomit has a strong feces smell when it’s just out from sperm whales’ bodies, but it has a great value. It contains the odorless alcohol or ambrein that is used to make expensive perfume’s scent last longer. They also used ambergris as an aphrodisiac and medicine in early Arab civilization.

7. It Helps to Fertilize The Ocean

To fulfill their feeding needs, sperm whales dive to the deep sea to hunt giant squids, sharks, and other sea creatures. They stop all the non-essential body functions during diving, such as excretions. Sperm whales will defecate when they reach the surface, which allows a meaningful act for the ocean.

The feces of sperm whales contain iron, which seeds the surface waters with fertilizer. This behavior stimulates phytoplankton that live around there to grow rapidly and become billions of fish food. The growth of phytoplankton will also help to reduce carbon dioxide.

8. It Has Unique Sleeping Habit

Sperm Whale Sleeping (Source: www.scientificamerican.com/)

Moving on to the next fact on the list, this one is probably one of the most unique facts about sperm whale. The largest toothed whales in the world have a unique way of sleeping. They sleep in a vertical position that is very different from other fish. Most fish prefer to sleep while floating horizontally, wedging into a secure spot, or locating a suitable nest.

The sperm whales dive, head up, and slowly drift toward the surface while napping for ten to fifteen minutes. And they only spend seven percent of their day sleeping, making them one of the world’s least sleep-dependent animals.

9. It’s Gestation Period is Around 14-16 Months

Among the whales, sperm whales have quite a long gestation period. It is around 14 to 16 months for the female whales to carry the baby with them.

The females give birth to a calf every five to seven years on average in fifteen years. The males will travel south to the warmer tropical and subtropical water, where the females stay with their pod.

10. Scrimshaw is Sperm Whale Souvenir from The Past

Sperm Whale Teetch (Source: fandfinc.net)

Back in the whaling period, the whalers were not only going for the spermaceti oil and ambergris but also their teeth. Back then, the sperm whale teeth were used to make a carving art called scrimshaw.

The scrimshaw is now illegal as the U.S. protects sperm whales under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act after banning commercial whaling in 1973. However, you can sell the 100 years old or older scrimshaw from the 1800s interstate because it comes from the legal period.

11. The Dead Sperm Whales Explode

In several unfortunate sperm whale dead cases, many of them were stranded on the beaches. The large body of sperm whale carcasses naturally contains a huge amount of methane due to decomposing. Back in 2004, a 60-ton sperm whale carcass was moving to National Cheng Kung University’s laboratory in Tainan before it exploded in the middle of the city.

The gases from internal decay blew up the sperm whale’s blood and guts with a loud sound and terrible smell. In 2013, another dead sperm whale’s explosion happened, and it was caught on camera. Two of the four-stranded sperm whales were dead in the Faroe Islands.

The city decided to take one whale’s bones as a future museum display. Bjarni Mikkelsen, a biologist, was sent out to cut the carcass and experienced a violent whale’s belly explosion that almost injured him.

12. Sperm Whales Have Long Digestive System

Whales, in general, have a long intestine, but the longest intestine belongs to the sperm whale. The intestine can be 150 meters to 220 meters, or even longer. The sperm whales also have two stomachs to digest the food that they swallow whole.

The first one will crush the food and resist damage, especially squid beaks. The second one is where digestion starts with help from ambergris. This food journey has to pass approximately twenty-four times the whale’s body length itself.

13. Moby Dick is Based on A Real Disaster Story

Tragedy Whaleship Essex (Source: www.nationalgeographic.org)

Moby Dick is a famous novel by Herman Melville based on real story of the sunken whaling ship Essex. Essex was one of many whaling ships that were out for sperm whales’ blubber and waxy oil. The ship was harpooning one whale then a huge sperm whale rammed the ship.

With powerful strength from the largest toothed whale, the ship sank vulnerably and left the crew stranded. The whale character’s name Moby Dick is also inspired by a real albino sperm whale Mocha Dick. It was famous for its deadly attacks near Mocha Island.

14. Sperm Whales Breach Frequently

Sperm whales, along with the right whales and humpback whales, do breach more frequently than other whale species. Researchers believe that it is one of the whales’ ways to communicate with others.

Breach means another thing for the sperm whale. As sperm whales eat a lot of squids as their main food, the beaks often cause discomfort. Breaching is their way to relieve the discomfort and throw the beaks out. Thus, sperm whales breach more often than other whales.

15. Sperm Whale is an Endangered Animal 

Sperm Whale (Source: www.fisheries.noaa.gov)

We have come to the last fact about Sperm Whale, which needs our extra attention. Back to 1800 until the 1980s, commercial whaling was done by many whale hunters. It decreased the sperm whale population significantly. There are approximately  300.000 sperm whales now, which is a small number compared to 1.1 million whales before the whaling.

That’s why the Endangered Species Act lists sperm whales in the endangered category, and Marine Mammal Protection Act labels them as depleted stock. Experts believe that it’s hard for sperm whales to recover in reproduction after the mass whaling in the past after seeing the numbers of sperm whales.

Now that you have read all 15 facts about Sperm Whale, it’s important for us to make sure this amazing creature is still here for many years to come. The sperm whales have supported the human economy for decades with a high price of their existence. The enormous whales look intimidating with their body sizes, but they have cute habits that oppose their looks. The supportive groups of female and young whales and their unique sleeping habits may make you fall in love with them. However, it’s unfortunate that the great whales have become endangered animals due to their poor history.

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