Sperm Whale Bargin Notecard

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Model: NCB-13

Sperm Whale (Physter macrocephalus)
The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales, with males reaching over 50 feet in length and weighing more than 40 tons. Females are somewhat smaller. The animal's enormous head, blunt snout and relatively small jaw give it an unmistakable profile which is many people's image of a whale. These creatures specialize in hunting large deep-water squid which may be even longer than the whales. They may eat up to one ton of squid or fish each day.

Sperm whales can feed at depths of 9000 feet or more. As mammals they must surface for air, but on deep dives they may stay below water for up to 90 minutes. Sperm whales use their voices; most commonly clicks at the rate of 20-80/seconds for echolocation, which helps them hunt as well as communicate, for each individual has a distinctive voice.

Since the first whale was captured off the American coast in 1712, sperm whales have been the mainstay of a rich whaling culture. In addition to whale oil, this species yielded two sought-after products, spermaceti and ambergis. Spermaceti is a unique oil highly prized for smokeless candles. It comes from a structure in the whale's head called the spermaceti case, which is important to the whale for buoyancy during deep dives, and also functions as a highly sensitive sonar apparatus. Ambergis is a dark, sticky resinous mass which builds up in the stomach of some individuals and has been used in the perfume and pharmaceutical industries.

This whale's complex brain is the largest on earth, weight up to 22 pounds! Their highly fissured brain is similar to ours, as are most whale brains, with the best developed areas involving communication and social perception. Our efforts to understand the impressive whale mine, however, have been feeble. The seas impede out familiarity with the animals and our cultural bias tells us that anything as big as a whale must be wild and dangerous.

Sperm whales show a high degree of cohesion. At birth, "midwife" whales form a tight ring around the central female and help nudge the newborn to the surface for its first breath. These whales are also very playful. In one instance a herd was seen playing; they pursued one of their members who had a tree grasped in his mouth, much like a puppy with a bone.

artwork and text by Steve Sierigk © 1985

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