I have been (slowly) reading Moby Dick on my iPhone when I find myself bored or waiting in line for something. Recently, I watched the Encore movie adaptation of Moby Dick (Worth the watch. I recommend it) and was wondering how accurate the movie was in its visual representation of a sperm whale. I wondered because the computer generated movie whale looked…well, it look poorly rendered. The whale’s head appeared blocky and too big for the body. The skin looked gnarled and scarred.
So, I started a Google search for sperm whale pictures. And found out that the movie’s digital whale wasn’t very far off the mark in its depiction of a sperm whale. The sperm whale DOES have a very large head. In fact, it makes up 25% – 30% of the total length of its body. The enormity of the sperm whale’s head is also reflected in its scientific name which is “Physter Macrocephalus”
They almost look like submarines when diving don’t they?
Then I found this amazing picture of a sperm whale with what was left of a giant squid in its mouth!
In the article in which the picture was posted, they said that the behavior of the whale pod suggests they were teaching a juvenile whale how to find and hunt giant squid (found 800 meters under the surface). You can read more about it here at the Daily Mail UK.
Now that my interest was further piqued, I looked for more information about the sperm whale. Here are some of the factoids I found at the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources web page that I found particularly interesting.
- Sperm whale female are sexually mature at age 9 and have a child about once every 4-5 years. However, they are not physically mature until age 30 when they stop growing, having reached a size of about 35 feet long. Males reach sexual maturity around age 20 and physical maturity around age 50(!) when they are usually around 52 ft long.
- Sperm whales inhabit all the oceans of the world, keeping mainly to deep water areas with depths of 600-1000 meters. This means they are less affected by human activities and predation and seem to have a healthy population of 200,000 – 1,500,000 members (it’s hard to tell because the whales are difficult to find and count in their preferred habitats).
- Because they spend most of their time in deep waters, they feed mainly on deep water creatures such as squid, large sharks inhabiting the depths or bottoms of the ocean, skates, and fishes. Their feeding dives usually last around 35 minutes but they can stay underwater for over an hour at depths of 1000 meters.