Get to Know Sperm Whales

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Sperm Whale Fast Facts

Scientific name: Physeter macrocephalus

Class: Mammalia

Average length: 40 feet (females) to 52 feet (males)

Average weight: 15 tons (females) to 45 tons (males)

Average lifespan: Up to 60 years

Current population: Between 360,000 to 450,000 individuals worldwide.

Cruising speed: Normal cruising speed is 3 to 9 mph. When they put their Speedy Gonzales pantaloons on, they can swim approximately 22 to 28 mph, and can maintain this speed for about an hour.

Gestation period: 14 to 16 months.

Favorite snack: Calamari, well done.

Favorite tunes: Beatboxing jams and a little Willy Nelson.

Favorite pastime: Deep sea diving, karaoke, and Thursday night book club.

Sperm Whales: Dive Deeper

Ahoy mateys! In an effort to better discover which resident of the ocean was the most rad sauce looking creature under the sea, we randomly sent a survey to all marine wildlife in the deep blue. After countless replies from cetaceans, sharks, and sardines near and far, we were able to compile all results, and come to a concrete conclusion. Crab-roll please?

It is one of the ocean’s most favorite VIP’s. Yep, you guessed it! The snazzy Sperm Whale.

These giant pals may sound familiar to you. You may have recently finished up a bit of light powder room reading of your favorite ocean voyage tale, ‘Moby Dick,’ or spotted a wrestle between one of these guys and a handsome devil played by an Australian heartthrob on the big screen, but did you know that these whales aren’t just reserved for a borderline fictional story made for the movies?

Read on to learn more about amazing sperm whales.

 Why is it called a sperm whale?

A waxy substance called spermaceti is found in the head cavities of these marine mammals, and was often a treasure trove to early whalers in search for quality oil, which lands them their spot in the limelight of famous American literature. The spermaceti within the noodles of these gnarly giants, is what gives them their famous name, sperm whale.

With heads larger than your favorite bowl of ice cream, they are known for having the largest noggin of any living creature on earth.

sperm-whale-skeleton-illustration_cAnastasiia-Polonet-Dreamstime

What do sperm whales look like?

In addition to their large heads, sperm whales also have unique physical features that set them apart from other marine wildlife. With a mouth full of 20 to 26 large teeth in each side of the lower jaw, as well as a set of teeth in the upper jaw which barely break through the gums, they keep Colgate in business, and take the cake for the largest of the toothed whales.

They are dark grey in color, occasionally have white patches on their belly, and appear to have a wrinkled shriveled appearance, particularly behind the head, close to where their single blowhole sits. Makeup artists would state that they prefer to wear a lighter tone of lipstick, since they are usually seen with the skin around their mouth, especially the corners, being white.

How big is a sperm whale? With adult lads reaching lengths of up to 49-52 feet and weighing up to 35-45 tons, male sperm whales tend to outweigh their lady counterparts who come in at a slim 12-15 tons, and grow to about 36 feet.

Sperm Whale Swimming Under the Boat

What do sperm whales eat?

With a bod so big, you must be wondering what sperm whales eat? Whale, besides young sailors in search for their Brainiac blubber, they gobble up many larger species that occupy the deep oceans waters.

In fact, because of their scrumptious menu picks – they’re able to dine exclusively on other marine wildlife, which makes us so glad to say that their seafarer friends have never been, nor ever will be on their dinner plate. So settle down, Sailor – we like to keep it light hearted around here, and we’re only kidding about the mariner munchies.

Can sperm whales eat humans? In all seriousness, sperm whales do not eat humans, and snack solely on squid, sharks, skates and fish. They gobble up about 3 to 3.5 percent of their body weight per day, which means their mother earth packs up more than 2,000 pounds of food per day into their lunch sack. That’s a lot of grub to be sharing at the lunch table!

Giant Squid Illustration

How Do Sperm Whales Communicate?

One might wonder how sperm whales snatch up so much food in such deep dark water? Do they have a flashlight on their noggin? Or is it a big game of hide and seek? Maybe it’s a gigantic pair of killer goggles?

As much as we’d like to find a giant spotlight on the noses of these whales, or pair of super-sized goggles roaming the oceans, they have something much cooler! Scientists call these “goggles,” sperm whale sonar, or echolocation. This echolocation enables sperm whales to dive down over 3,300 feet under water to catch their prey.

While doing so, they use a series of clicks and whistles, which bounce off of objects in the water. These clicks are far louder than a helicopter hovering right outside your bedroom window, and the largest whale can generate 230 decibels, deeming them the loudest animals on the planet.

As the whales emit these clicks and whistles, they then listen to these echo’s and are able to create a three-dimensional picture of their surroundings. This then grants them the ability to snatch up them giant yummy squid who’ve been chillin’ at the bottom of earth’s biggest bathtub.

Sperm-Whale-4403_copyright-Dolphin-Safari

Sperm Whale Sonar

Not only do these clicks and whistles enable sperm whales to seize up their supper, but they also have fascinating and serious effects on the human body.

Due to the amplitude of sound that these clicks emit, they can burst a free-diving fella’s ear drums, and literally cause their entire body to vibrate, leaving some body limbs temporarily paralyzed. These sounds are nothing short of amazing AND overwhelming.

It is similar to the sound of a creaky house with random whistles going off, placed on rock star, ear-splitting volume. So, if you’re thinking about taking a dive with these calamari eating compadres, you may want to stock up on some hefty ear plugs, and plan to get a full body, deep sea massage.

Because of the magnitude of the sperm whales’ sonars, it allows these clicky operatic singing specimens to hear each other from hundreds, sometimes even thousands of miles away, and some researchers believe that they are able to keep in contact with one another through these clicks, on opposite sides of the globe! (Hefty-hefty earbuds, people.)

Sperm Whale Fluke

How big is a sperm whale brain?

This communication is key to the well-being of these beautiful beasts, as they are highly social, compassionate and intelligent beings. With their brains being 6 times the size of ours, including the neocortex; which governs higher conscious thought, future planning, and language, they also have spindle cells, which are long and highly developed brain structures that neurologists have associated with love, suffering, compassion and speech. Sperm whales not only have these spindle cells but they have them in very large quantities. In English: these animals can feel, communicate, think, and comprehend life intimately. And they’d most likely give you a hug if their somewhat small flippers were any larger in size.

Sperm Whale Females and Calf

When is the best time to see sperm whales?

Sperm whales could be seen at any time during the year here in Dana Point, but because of their love for deep sea diving in offshore waters, their visits are very rare and extremely special.

Here at Captain Dave’s, we are so fascinated with these highly-developed specimens, that we breach at any opportunity to take a glimpse at their magnificent selves. Although they spend the majority of their time in deep-deep waters, we had the amazing opportunity to spend a little quality time with these whales just outside our harbor in Dana Point.

In 2014, a pod of over 60 sperm whales visited Dana Point, California. It was the first time our whale watching trips had seen sperm whales in decades, and these beauties were not shy! The whales were seen in roughly ten groups of about eight to twelve whales each, spread over two to three miles just three miles off of Dana Point Harbor.

The numbers in these groups brought passengers on board both awe and excitement, but groups like this are not uncommon for sperm whales, especially females. Most female sperm whales will form lasting bonds with other females of their family, and on average 12 females and their young will form a social unit.  These dark grey giants didn’t wear their bow ties and bonnets that day, so we weren’t exactly certain the gender of each whale, but if facts check out, then it sounds like it was one stellar ladies day out!

These groups would surface for as much as 15 minutes at a time, occasionally approaching the boat to spy hop, roll, tail lob, fluke, and show off their fresh manicures. This behavior was nothing short of spectacular!

Sperm Whale Spouting a

These 50-foot, 45-ton animals and are found in all deep oceans, from the equator to the edge of the pack ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. Brrrrrrr

Sperm whales often surface for approximately nine minutes after long deep dives that last anywhere between 45-60 minutes at depths of over 10,000 feet deep, so we sure were grateful for their choice to bubble up right next to our boat.

We always make sure to keep our flippers crossed for another special opportunity to check out these big headed, and oh so stunning mammals, and although their visits are infrequent, this does not deter us from keeping an eye out for them. (Especially in Southern California where you could see just about anything, at any time, while whale watching!) So, if you’re in the area, and hoping to say hello to the deep blue’s most rad sauce looking creatures, then climb aboard! And join us as we sport out Moby Dick lovin’ selves, and trek out into the deep blue for an absolutely unforgettable and spermind-blowing adventure!


Go whale watching!