Spermaceti is a pearly white wax like material found in the head cavity of the sperm whale.
This white waxy substance is created by the spermaceti organ, which is located in the top half of the whale’s skull.
As the whale ages the percentage of wax esters found in the spermaceti organ increases from around 40% to nearly 90% depending on the whales age and sex.
The spermaceti that was found in the whale’s skull was originally believed to be semen as its pearly white wax like substance and coloring resembled that of actual sperm.
Because of its close resemblance to semen this whale’s oil producing organ and the waxy substance that came out of it were given the names “spermaceti organ” and “sperm oil” by those who hunted these marine mammals.
During the whaling era harvesters and manufacturers found spermaceti to be a great chemical to be used for making candles, cosmetics, ointments, textiles and various other materials due to its lack of smell or taste when congealed.
In order to prevent the spermaceti oil from going rancid the whalers would boil the wax to eliminate impurities and then cool it using a method known as wintering which involved the whalers and/or harvesters leaving the purified wax out in the cold until it cooled into a congealed state.
In this state the wax would form into a hard substance that still possessed a waxy feeling when touched by hand.
Eventually as technology became more advanced and scientists were better able to examine this pearly white wax like substance they realized that this chemical produced by the spermaceti organ isn’t sperm and plays no role in the whale’s reproductive system.
This new-found information has led scientists to theorize what possible functions this oil could be used for in aiding the whale’s survival.
While scientists have not been able to confirm exactly what this waxy substance is used for one common theory is that the spermaceti oil produced by the spermaceti organ assists the whale with buoyancy and helps it dive and rise in the water more quickly, however recent research has devalued this theory due to the sperm whale appearing to have insufficient biological systems for adjusting its buoyancy through the process of heating and cooling the spermaceti, which would change its density and allow the whale to vary its buoyancy in the water.
Another popular theory is that the waxy spermaceti substance found in the sperm whales head assists the whale with echolocation, since this wax like material makes an excellent sound conductor.
Echolocation works by producing a series of sounds and then listening to the echo that returns to the host from objects in the nearby environment.
The returning echo’s can inform the sperm whale of the distance, direction, speed, density and size of the object it is inquiring about.
The spermaceti oil found in the sperm whales head can greatly enhance the whale’s ability to pin point prey such as giant squid and octopus, which can be found at extreme depths in pitch black water.
Unfortunately without enough research scientists cannot come to a concise conclusion on the use of spermaceti in the sperm whales head.