The Whales

sperm whale

The sperm whale, at 49 to 50 feet (15 to 18 meters) is the largest toothed whale.  It has been often portrayed in art and literature as a symbol of the great whales. 

It is best known as the leviathan “Moby Dick” in Melville’s novel of the same name, which was based, in part, on the actual whale called “Mocha Dick” a famous and notoriously hard to kill whale of pale coloring whose back was studded with harpoons. 

The sperm whale is the deepest diver of the great whales and can descend to depths of over 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) and stay submerged for over an hour.  At such depths there is little or no light. 

Sperm Whale 

20" Long x 5.5" High
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Sperm whales use highly developed echolocation ability to locate food such as fish, skate, octopus, and squid.  The lower jaw contains 18 to 25 large teeth on each side of the jaw, 3 to 8 inches (76 to 203 cm) long.  The upper jaw contains a series of sockets into which the lower teeth fit. Large female family groups with calves have as many as 10 to 20 members.  Lone males visit female groups for only a few hours at a time. 

The sperm whales head houses a large reservoir containing spermaceti, clear liquid oil, that was much prized by whalers.  Ambergris, a strange substance found in lumps in the lower intestine of sperm whales, is formed around squid beaks that remain in the stomach.  It is used in the making of perfume. 

Sperm whales are still fairly numerous, but selective killing of the larger breeding-age over the years upset the male to female ratio, and the birth rate has seriously declined.  They were killed in two massive hunts, the “Moby Dick” era whalers, who hunted from 1740 to 1880, and the modern whalers whose operations peaked in 1964, when 29,255 were killed.  Estimates suggest a global population of about 360,000 down from about 1,100,000 before whaling.




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