My fascination with sperm whales was first kindled when I saw a skeleton of two whales in the Te Papa Museum in New Zealand. Above me were two magnificent whales larger than the bus I took to school. Their bones alone weighed 6,000 pounds.
Often when we think about these amazing creatures our minds turn to the past, of stories of whalers and Moby Dick. Sperm whales are very much alive today and are a wonder of the ocean. Let’s dive deep into the lives of these incredible cetaceans.
Where can you find sperm whales?
Sperm whales are found in the deep ocean all over the world. Sperm whales wander throughout the ocean, sometimes traveling a million miles in their lifetimes. They range as far as the Arctic and the Antarctic but tend to migrate to the warmer waters of the equator during mating season.
How deep can sperm whales go?
Sperm whales can dive more than 4,000 feet in search of prey. That’s about the height of three Empire State Buildings stacked down below the waves. They can hold their breath and stay submerged for well over an hour. That’s because sperm whales have evolved to access oxygen from their blood and muscles which helps them last for so long without a breath. They also have adaptations that prevent the buildup of dangerous gas bubbles in their bodies, also known as “the bends,” that can endanger humans from the increased pressure in the ocean depths.
Was Moby Dick real?
While Moby Dick is a work of fiction. it did draw inspiration from a real white whale. Mocha Dick was a legendary whale in sailor lore known as the “White Whale of the Pacific”. He allegedly evaded a hundred ships, destroying 20 of them in the process. He was taken down after 28 years of daring escapes, and the account of his death inspired Herman Melville’s tale. While white sperm whales are incredibly uncommon, they are occasionally spotted outside the pages of books. Last year one of these incredible white whales was spotted off the coast of Jamaica.
How did sperm whales get their name?
Sperm whales get their name from a unique organ in their heads called spermaceti. When seamen first opened a sperm whale’s noggin, they thought the oily substance was, well, semen. The actual purpose of spermaceti still alludes scientists. It could be a help with buoyancy or provide a way to create powerful sounds that find and stun their prey.