During the many trips on ship back and forth to Europe from New York during the 60’s or 70’s many of us would look far out in the ocean during the day and night to see if we could have seen or heard a whale but we never did. The sperm whale dives deeper than any other marine mammal and may reach depths of more than l0,000 feet. The deepest recorded dive is 4,000 feet according to The Wildlife Fact-File. There is one that dives the deepest and for the longest period of time and staying underwater for up to 45 minutes. That is the bull whale.
Whales are overwhelming and mysterious to people. Most of us have never seen one nor probably will. Adventures of Moby Dick sure give us some insight but one can only imaging what that encounter would be.
For centuries, man has ruthlessly hunted the sperm whale and it continues to be persecuted by man. The protective instinct of whales is that when there is an injured animal, the group will surround it. This is called the Marguerite formation. Hunters have taken advantage of this by harpooning a single sperm whale to attract other whales who come to rescue. Then they kill them all. Why does man hunt the sperm whale? Man wants it for food, for the oil its blubber provides, the spermaceti wax found on its head, and the substance called ambergris found in the inestines.
The sperm whale lives in groups and is a sociable animal. Group structure varies according to the age and sex of the whale. Males and females generally live apart. Females form groups with their young from five to thirty animals. Some groups are bachelor pods of young, non- breeding whales. There are larger harem groups consisting of many females, young, and a dominant, sexually mature bull.
Their language is sonar clicks with which they can communicate. They swim, dive, feed, and sleep together with their group. The whales migrate to the Arctic and Antarctic during the summer to feed. An adult sperm whale is about 150 times the size of man. It has been exploited by man and it has left the species in a fierce struggle for survival.
What does a sperm whale eat? It feeds on bottom-dwelling organisms such as squid. The giant squids put up such a struggle that they make scars on the whale’s head by the tentacles. It is believed that the whale stuns its prey with very loud sound waves. Scientists are not sure.
It also eats snapper, lobster, and even shark. The prey is swallowed whole. An adult whale will eat up to one ton of food every day.
“The sperm whale can dive 560 feet per minute; it ascends to the surface at 460 feet per minute. When the whale expels air after a deep dive, the noise it makes can be heard half a mile away.” (Wildlife Fact-File)
A pod is a small group of whales. The largest of the toothed whales is the sperm whale. It can reach the length of 65 feet. One third of its total body length is its massive round head.
Males generally are from 50-65 feet long. Females are from 35-55 feet long. The average weight for a male is 80,000 pounds. For a female it is 44,000 pounds.
Sperm whales are sociable and live in groups. Their call are whistles and clicks. Their diet is bottom-dwelling fish. The life-span of a sperm whale is up to 70 years. Related species are pygmy sperm whales and dwarf sperm whales.
Where do they live? Sperm whales live in the oceans of the world in two distinct groups: one migrating north of the equator to the Arctic and the other south of the equator to the Anarctic.
Despite the protection from the International Whaling Commission, numbers have dropped from 170,000 males and fewer females to 71,000 males and l25,000 females.
The sperm whale has special adaptations. Blowhole is one: it can hold its breath for more than an hour underwater. It returns to the surface to expel spent air from its blowhole.
Sermaceti wax: it controls its buoyancy when ascending or diving by drawing water through the nasal passages to heat or cool the vast amount of spermaceti wax. Marguerite formation: they will protect an injured member of their group by gathering around it.
When the sperm whale reaches sexual maturity and its teeth start growing. It has no teeth before. The largest teeth are eleven inches long. Sexual maturity is about ten years. At this time the sperm whales are 40 feet long for males. However, they usually do not breed until after 25 years. Males mate annually and females every four years. Gestation is 14-16 months.
The sperm whale will have a single calf. It is a beautiful sight to see a photo illustrating how a female sperm whale is next to her day-old calf.
Every fall the groups of sperm whales begin their migration to the equator from the Arctic and Antarctic for the winter breeding season. Bulls form harems up to thirty adult females.
There are fierce fights between rival males for females. The harem is established and the bull mates with any female not already pregnant or with young. The females give birth fourteen to sixteen months later. The female is helped by other females while she gives birth and also help the calf to the surface to take her first breath. The calf feeds from its mother fat-rich milk for two years. It has grown to 23 feet.
Man’s desire to hunt such an intelligent and majestic mammal must be tempered or simply stopped throughout the world. The ocean belongs to all whales and to the king, the royal sperm whale.