The beaming ivory fluke of a rare white sperm whale is a sight that whale watchers around the world hope to catch a glimpse of.
Immortalized in the tale of Moby Dick, the sperm whale inspires emotions ranging from excitement to awe among those who spot this majestic creature.
This creature, called the white (albino) sperm whale, is an extremely elusive sight.
These gigantic hunters are found in many of the world’s major oceans.
The white sperm whale, an unexpectedly stunning genetic anomaly, may be found in any region the sperm whale inhabits.
Intelligent, social mammals, the sperm whale and the white sperm whale are nature’s finest example of evolutionary success.
Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whale suborder.
Adult male sperm whales, also known as bulls, average 52 feet in length, while females, called cows, average 36 feet in length.
Males weigh approximately 40 tons, while the significantly smaller females average 14 tons.
Typically, the sperm whale is dark grey in color; however, white sperm whales lack the melanin responsible for pigmentation.
This genetic irregularity requires two whales to carry the recessive trait for albinism to pass the gene off to their offspring, resulting in varying degrees of expression of albinism.
Wrinkled skin on the back of the sperm whale differentiates it from the smooth skin characteristic of many other whale species.
Physically, sperm whales are an impressive sight.
The most prominent feature of the sperm whale is its large, boxy head.
This massive chamber houses the spermaceti organ, which produces the oily substance known as spermaceti.
The specific function of spermaceti is not entirely clear, however, it is thought that the substance plays a role in buoyancy or functions in echolocation.
Atop its large head, positioned asymmetrically to the left is an S-shaped blow-hole.
Beneath the massive bulk of the whale’s head lies a slender, tooth-lined lower jaw.
These teeth measure between 4 to 8 inches and fit into sockets in the upper jaw, allowing the animal to close its mouth.
Together, these features make the sperm whale a successful predator.
Sperm whales are carnivorous mammals.
They utilize echolocation to determine the size, distance, and direction of prey in the dark depths of the ocean.
The majority of their diet is comprised of giant squid, yet they occasionally consume octopus, a variety of fish species, shrimp, crab, and mesopelagic sharks depending upon the availability of prey in their region.
While sperm whales are found in nearly all of the world’s oceans, white sperm whales are a rarity.
Due to the recessive genetic traits that contribute to an albino sperm whale, it is possible that they may exist wherever the species can be found.
Sperm whales prefer the deep waters near the continental shelves and oceanic canyons, often diving to depths between 3,300 to 6,500 feet.
It is not well understood whether these animals participate in migration behavior.
Pockets of sperm whales have been observed migrating toward the poles during warm seasons, however, their behavior appears to be isolated and sporadic.
Females, calves, and immature males live in groups of 7 to 12 whales called “units or pods”, which are arranged in a tiered hierarchy.
Units spend the majority of their time foraging for food and socializing.
Together, the females raise their calves, cooperatively providing greater protection and resources for the young than one single cow could accomplish individually.
Units are typically found in warmer, tropical waters.
Male sperm whales are solitary mammals.
Young, sexually mature males form loose “bachelor groups” that disband as the males reach maturity.
Bulls tend to reside in the cooler, higher latitudes.
Sperm whales and white sperm whales are fascinating predators; they continue to provide inspiration to sailor’s legends and historical myths.
While science does not fully understand many aspects of the sperm whale’s behavior, it is the mystery surrounding this secretive creature that drives us to understand the depths of the white sperm whale.