marine

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Sperm whales breed slowly, with females having their first calf when they reach nine years old.  Pregnancy lasts from 14 to 16 months, and the newborn calf is 13 feet long and weighs 1000 kilograms.  These babies will stay with their mothers for over a decade, and suckle for over three years.  There have been some records of sperm whale calves nursing from their mothers (and other lactating females in the group) for up to 13 years.  The milk produced by the mother whales is incredibly rich; sperm whale milk is 36% fat, compared to 4% fat in raw cow’s milk.  This means the milk has a consistency closer to that of cottage cheese than to liquid milk, which has the added bonus of keeping the milk from dissolving and being lost in the water as the calf feeds.

flickr

Young Crested hornshark - Heterodontus galeatus #marineexplorer by John Turnbull
Via Flickr:
Kurnell

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The sperm whale is the only animal in the world known to prey on the giant and colossal squids.  In fact, much of what we know about these species comes from remains found in the stomachs of whales.  Although an actual encounter encounter between a sperm whale and a giant squid has never been seen, adult whales are often seen with scars left from the suckers and beaks of squids.  Also, the digestive system of the sperm whale seems to have adapted specifically to digest large squid.  Like cows, sperm whales have four stomachs.  The first stomach is for crushing and grinding food, and has thick, muscular walls to resist the claws and suckers of thrashing squid.  The second stomach, where most digestion takes place, is also where the beaks of squid tend to accumulate.  These beaks are usually vomited back up, but those that pass through the other two stomachs irritate the whale’s intestines, causing the production of a thick, waxy, lubricating substance that coats the beak and helps it pass through, similar to the way an oyster will produce a pearl.  This secretion is called ambergris, and was massively prized as a perfume fixative, as well as an incense, flavouring for food, and medicine.  

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The sperm whale is the second deepest diving mammal in the world, able to reach depths of nearly 7400 feet.  Its entire anatomy has adapted to cope with the intense pressures at these depths, including an abundance of myoglobin and red blood cells, which helps keep the brain and essential organs oxygenated under pressure. The whale can also slow its metabolism to conserve oxygen, and collapse its lungs to prevent nitrogen poisoning.  Sperm whales will usually surface and breathe for about eight minutes before a feeding dive, and these dives can last for over an hour.  One whale killed off the coast of South Africa had just surfaced after a one hour, 50 minute love dive.

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