Sperm whales are truly impressive animals with a range of remarkable features and abilities. While not as large as the blue whale—the largest animal on the planet—sperm whales are the largest toothed predators in the world. They also have the largest heads and biggest brains of any animal, the latter five times heavier than a human’s. Their vocalizations, meanwhile, are the loudest of any animal on Earth. They can emit sounds of 230 decibels, louder than a jet airplane at takeoff.
The massive head of a sperm whale contains a substance called spermaceti. Whalers mistakenly believed this liquid or wax was semen, hence the species’ name. Sperm whales were highly prized for this valuable resource—literature’s most famous whale, Moby Dick, was a sperm whale. Today, scientists are still not entirely sure what spermaceti does. One common theory is that the fluid helps sperm whales alter their buoyancy so they can dive deep and rise again.
This would help explain the sperm whale’s amazing diving capabilities. They are the third deepest diving mammal after southern elephant seals and Cuvier’s beaked whales, at times plunging to depths of more than 3,280 feet. A single dive can last for more than an hour, allowing sperm whales time to hunt their favorite prey such as giant squid and octopuses. They eat around a ton of food each day.
Sperm whales have a worldwide range, but only the larger males are found in the frigid waters of Antarctica. In warmer waters, pods contain 15 to 20 animals, mainly females and their young. The males either travel alone or move from one group to another. They can cruise at 23 mph, allowing them to migrate between Antarctic waters and then back towards the equator to breed. Sperm whales can communicate with each other over great distances thanks to their loud clicks and calls, and different sperm whale communities have been found to have their own regional accents and dialects.
Other Antarctica Wildlife
Adélie Penguin / Chinstrap Penguin / Emperor Penguin / Gentoo Penguin / Macaroni Penguin / Crabeater Seal / Elephant Seal / Fur Seal / Leopard Seal / Ross Seal / Weddell Seal / Blue Whale / Fin Whale / Humpback Whale / Killer Whale / Minke Whale / Right Whale / Sei Whale