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threatened and/or endangered

Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus


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Sperm Whale
credit:  Cianc/CCSA

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Family: Physeteridae, Sperm Whales view all from this family

Description Unique large whale with square head, undersized lower jaw, and wrinkled skin. Body color varies from dark gray to light brown, rarely white like Moby Dick. Skin around mouth usually white. Male is larger, with a protruding spermaceti organ projecting beyond the skull. Angular hump is followed by a keeled tail stock topped by bumpy knuckles. Has stubby flippers and a large triangular fluke. Single blowhole at front of head sends a bushy blow forward and to the left.

Dimensions 11-18.3m, 11,000-57,000kg; / 8.3-12.5m, 6800-24,000kg.

Endangered Status The Sperm Whale is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in North Carolina. Like so many whale species, this giant owes its endangered status to hunting. It was especially prized for two substances, spermaceti, a wax that was used in cosmetics and other products, and ambergris, a wax-like material found in the digestive tract (probably produced during the digestion of squid) that was used in perfume manufacturing. The Sperm Whale seems to have recovered somewhat from its earlier depletion and is thought to be the most abundant of the great whales.

Habitat Offshore waters

Range New England, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, California, Northwest, Eastern Canada, Western Canada, Alaska

Discussion Typically dives to 300m in search of squid and octopi, may reach 3000m. Usually dives to avoid boats. An endangered species. Swims in groups of ca. 20 animals in deep waters; moves north in summer and south in winter.