Sperm Whale - Physeter macrocephalus
Status: Vulnerable … Sperm whales dive up to a kilometre to catch their giant squid prey
Location: A large geographic range, in nearly every ocean and sea.
Size: Males can grow to 20 metres long.
Habitat: Open ocean.
Although commercial whaling, the greatest threat to sperm whales, is now banned, a number of other threats remain. And the IUCN does not think there is enough evidence of populations recovering from whaling, so they have designated this species as vulnerable.
Sperm whales have suffered a long history of whaling since the 1500s, with intense commercial whaling beginning around 1712 and continuing into the late 1980’s. At its peak in the 1950s, the highly mechanised phase killed around 25,000 whales per year, dramatically depleting the global population. In recent decades, some tens of whales were taken each year from small boats in Indonesia and ten were taken annually by Japan under an IWC Special Permit.
Although entanglement in fishing gear, particularly gillnets, has been a problem in the Mediterranean Sea, sperm whales die from entanglement in nets and lines in many other areas and in a variety of fisheries as well. These whales sometimes take fish off fishing gear (most often demersal long-line gear). This interaction has resulted in a few reported entanglements and deaths. Sperm whales have also been recorded washing up dead with ruptured or blocked guts after eating quantities of discarded fishing gear and other marine litter.
Sperm whales have huge, squarish foreheads, small inconspicuous eyes, and a long narrow lower jaw. They have one blowhole located at the left of the forehead. Their blows are projected forward at an angle, which is very different from other whales. Their light-brown to blue-gray skin is rippled over much of the body, especially on the back and sides.
Did you know?
- The largest of the toothed whales, its head contains the biggest brain of any living animal.
- The deepest-diving mammal - can go almost a kilometre below the surface and stay there for as long as an hour!
- It echolocates using high frequency ultrasound - it’s a big old thing and the noises are possibly the loudest made by any animal - it may actually stun its prey with sound.
What MCS is doing:
- Working towards better protection of important marine habitats in the UK;
- Working towards better management of fisheries that can impact sperm whales;
- Working to reduce marine litter that threatens sperm whales and other maine species.