Six Interesting Facts about Sperm Whales | Scuba Diving

Six Interesting Facts about Sperm Whales

sperm whale

Sperm whales are also known by the name cachalot, which is from the French word cachalot, and from the Spanish and Portuguese cachalote — translated as “big head”.


1. Adult sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) — aka cachalot — have the biggest brains on Earth. A sperm whale brain is more than five times heavier than a human’s. They can grow to be 67 feet long, though the average length for a male is 52 feet. Males average 45 short tons. A newborn weighs about 1 short ton and is about 13 feet long. The whale that sank the Essex, an American whaler attacked by a sperm whale in 1820 (one of the incidents that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick), was claimed to be 85 feet long. Female sperm whales tend to be much smaller — on average, 38 feet long and weighing 14 to 16 tons.

2. Sperm whales are named for the spermaceti organ which fills most of its huge head and the ambergris in its intestines. From the early 18th century through the late 20th century, sperm whales were hunted by whalers. The spermaceti, a liquid wax, was used in lubricants, oil lamps, and candles. Ambergris, a waste product from its digestive system, is still used as a fixative in perfumes.

3. They're the world's largest toothed predators. What’s their favorite meal? They love squid, even giant squids (genus Architeuthis). An adult sperm whale can eat up to a ton of food per day. A mature sperm whale has few natural predators, although calves and weakened or sick adults are sometimes killed by pods of orcas. Scars that have been found on sperm whales appear to be from large squid, which try to avoid being consumed by the whale by latching on to the whale’s head.

4. The sperm whale's distinctive shape comes from its very large, block-shaped head, which can be one-quarter to one-third of the whale's length. The S-shaped blowhole is located very close to the front of the head.

5. Sperm whales are world-class divers. They have been recorded hunting for food at depths of up to 3,000 feet.

6. Their lifespan is about 70 years. They can be found swimming through all of the major oceans. Adult males typically travel alone, although they sometimes form loosely connected bonds with other males of the same size and age. Females stay in pods numbering about a dozen or so.