Marine Creature: Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)Kindly compiled by Planet Whale
The largest of the toothed whales, the sperm whale is an incredibly deep diver and a unique animal. They are gregarious and often occur in pods of up to 20 or more, although males tend to become more solitary as they age. They can be quite demonstrative and breach regularly, especially juveniles. Groups of females with their young are found in groups averaging about 12 animals, although they can be spread over large areas, and surface at different intervals. There is some evidence to suggest that females often “babysit” calves of other pod members at the surface while the mother is on a foraging dive. The sperm whale navigates and hunts using echolocation, focussing these “clicks” through the huge spermaceti organ which is found in the head of the whale, taking up usually a third of the length of the whale.
The sperm whale is widely distributed in deep, offshore waters around the world, distributed as far as the poles, although it would only be large solitary males found at these high latitudes. Mixed pods of females and immature males usually remain in tropical to warm temperate waters throughout the year.
Individual sperm whales can be recognised by their tail flukes – researchers build photo identification catalogues of their tails in order to recognise individuals each time they’re seen.
A sperm whale’s blowhole is on the top left of its head, so the blow is easily distinguishable from other whales as it blows forward and to the left.
- Food: They mainly prey on large to medium-sized demersal squid, but also consume a range of sharks, rays, bony fish and octopuses.
- Size: Up to 18m in length and 55 tons for an adult male, adult females reach about two thirds of that size.
- Lifespan: At least 60-70 years
Feeding & Hunting
The sperm whale can dive to depths of at least 2000m, some evidence points to 3000m, in the hunt for giant squid which is known to form part of their diet, as well as various other squid and large fish species. They are not often seen feeding at the surface, and it is thought that most of their feeding takes place at depths greater than 500m. Their dives can last for over an hour, with periods of rest at the surface between these foraging dives, usually between 5-15 minutes.
Noise pollution is a threat to the Sperm Whale – these animals rely extensively on sound and echolocation to hunt and navigate, and various manmade forms of sound can prove very disruptive, and sometimes deadly. Entanglement in discarded fishing gear and pollution are also big threats.
Conservation Status & International Protection IUCN “vulnerable”
How can people help?
Send any photos you may be able to take of sperm whale tail flukes to researchers in the area to contribute to their photo identification catalogues.
Best places in the world to see these creatures:
Due to their preference for steep drop-offs at the edge of the continental shelf and deep water, places like the Azores – a mid-Atlantic island group where sperm whales gather in large groups, Kaikoura (New Zealand) where there is an enormous underwater canyon system close to the coast, and more at www.planetwhale.com plus ethical reviews and rating system for whale watching trips to see Sperm Whales
Organisation Profile: Planet Whale
Description/Background of work
At the heart of Planet Whale is a belief that an encounter with a wild whale or dolphin reconnects us with the natural world in an amazing and powerful way. For one humbling moment we can be moved to tears or celebrating wildly as we stare through the thin veil of water that separates us from these magnificent animals.
Planet Whale understands that we all need such encounters to reawaken our sense of responsibility to the natural world; energising ourselves to act for the greater good. That is our first step – only when we have been inspired will we feel compelled to act. For this reason we promote responsible whale watching and have the largest online searchable database of whale and dolphin watch operators in the world – the public can review trips they’ve been on with regard to their sustainability, educational value and impact on the marine environment, amongst other things.
It is this global community that will change the way we view whales and dolphins forever. By harnessing the passion and ideas of individuals, we will achieve more to protect and defend our oceans than ever before.
Together we will:
- Give the people control so they can use it to help whales and dolphins.
- Inspire change through a new global partnership.
- Make whale watching more sustainable – and successful – than ever before!
- Reach out to the world with colossal festivals for whales and dolphins.
- Create innovative campaigns that harness the power of the web’s global community.
Volunteer/Paid Work Opportunities
We are always looking for passionate and hard-working volunteers to help achieve our Planet Whale mission. In particular we welcome applications for the upcoming Whalefest. You don’t need to be a whale expert but a lot of enthusiasm for marine conservation and a fun attitude are essential. We’re based in Brighton and Hove (UK) but our volunteer network stretches across the globe, so feel free to get in touch wherever you are! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.