Learning About Sperm Whales

The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whale species and can be found inhabiting all of the worlds major oceans.

These marine mammals make up one of around 80 – 90 recorded species of cetacea, which is composed of all species of whale, dolphin and porpoise.

In addition to its massive size the sperm whale also has the largest brain of any living animal.

The name “sperm whale” comes from the spermaceti organ which is located in its head.

Previously it was believed that this organ produced sperm due to the milky white wax-like substance it produced.

While it has been confirmed that this organ does not produce sperm scientists haven’t been able to figure out why this organ exists.

One common assumption is that this organ helps stabilize the whale and adjust its buoyancy in the water.

In terms of size the sperm whale can grow to lengths in excess of 60 ft. and weigh more than 50 tons!

In most cases these whales are grey or near black in color, but on occasion they may also be light grey.

Their diet consists of large squid, octopus and fish which they track down using echolocation.

It isn’t uncommon to see these whales with scars around their head and face which appear to be the result of fights with large squid and octopus trying to prevent themselves from being eaten.

On average sperm whales can eat up to 3% of their total body weight in food.

When in search of prey they are capable of diving for up to 90 minutes before they need to return to the surface for air.

Adult male sperm whales are solitary marine mammals often traveling alone or in small pods.

Female whales can be found swimming with their calves and other females in pods that range in size from 10 – 20 whales.

During migratory periods the female whale and her child will often spend the entire year living in tropical climates while the adult males migrate towards higher latitude areas and back to the tropics during mating season.

The average gestation time for female sperm whales is 14 – 16 months.

After birth female whales produce a thick milk which they use to feed their young.

In some cases lactation (nursing their young) may continue for up to four years before the mother stops producing.

Even after the mother stops producing milk their young may continue to suckle for up to 12 years, although in most cases nursing stops much sooner.

In terms of lifespan sperm whales may live for up to 70 years.

During the whaling era sperm whales were often hunted and killed for their oil which was used to create soaps, margarine and transmission oil among other things.

Today however their main threats include being attacked by killer whales, false killer whales and in some cases pilot whales.

They are also at risk of being tangled in fishing nets and possible collisions with ships.

In addition to the sperm whale there are also two other marine mammals in the same family known as the dwarf sperm whale and pygmy sperm whale, which happen to be two of the smallest known whale species in existence today.