Sperm whales (Physeter microcephalus) are odontocetes—a categorization for toothed whales and dolphins. Sperm whales are the largest of the odontocetes, with females weighing up to 15 tons (13,607 kg) and males weighing up to 45 tons (40,823 kg). They inhabit all oceans of the world. Sperm whales have the largest brains of any animal known to have ever lived on Earth. Sperm whales generally eat large squid, sharks, skates, and fish. Sperm whales have a single blowhole on the left side, giving an angled bushy blow. Observers can distinguish sperm whales from a distance because of this distinctive blow. Sperm whales are social, and communicate using patterns of clicks, called codas. They can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes to dive for food. Sperm whales are one of the deepest diving mammals globally, diving up to three kilometers (1.86 miles). Widespread commercial whaling was the greatest threat to sperm whales, historically, resulting in a global decline of the species. Current threats include small-scale harvesting in Japan and Indonesia, entanglement in fishing gear, collision with boats, and ingestion of marine debris. They also may be highly susceptible to underwater noise and pollutants. While conservation efforts are ongoing, sperm whales increase in numbers very slowly—females give birth to one calf about every five years. They are currently considered vulnerable by the IUCN Red List.
Photo and haiku by: Samantha Oester