Sperm whales - Physeteroidea
Picking up this series again, this time a short one - as there are only three extant species of sperm whales.
First off, the sperm whale itself, Physeter macrocephalus (genus name means blowhole, and species name fittingly means “big-headed”). They are also known as cachalot (in Swedish, their only name is “kaskelot”), thought to be derived from “big teeth” in old French.
It is the largest toothed animal alive today, and arguably the largest toothed predator to ever live, surpassing the largest marine reptiles, Basilosaurus, and even Megalodon.
With a mass of up to 57 tons, it is four times the size of the second largest toothed whale alive today. Males can reach just over twenty meters (67 feet), while unverified claims of bulls reaching around 25 meters, exist. Females are significantly smaller, topping out at about 12 meters.
They have the largest brain of any living animal, possibly the largest ever, at nearly 8 kg. As newborns, the whale is four meters long and weighs a ton, roughly the size of an adult beluga.
They are one of the deepest diving mammals, being able to dive to a depth of over 2 kilometers (over 7300 feet), and hold their breath for over an hour.
To fully understand the badassery of this whale, you have to know about their prey - giant and colossal squid. Sperm whales are often seen with white, linear scars along their face. One theory is that this is from battles between males, but they are centered around the mouth and don’t resemble rakes in other toothed whales. The other idea is that these are scars from battling their prey.
Giant squids reach 13 meters in length and 275 kg in weight, their suckers are lined with tiny, sharp teeth, which have left scars on the skin of sperm whales. They are cute however compared to the colossal squid, 14 meters (only slightly longer because of their relatively short tentacles) and up to 750 kg in weight. Their suckers are equipped with three-pointed and swivelling hooks.
That’s what the sperm whale eats for dinner.
Despite all this however, they are not at the top of the food chain. Killer whales will attack and eat their calves, that they nurture for sometimes over a decade.
The other two sperm whales are members of the genus Kogia - Kogia breviceps or Pygmy sperm whale, and Kogia simus or Dwarf sperm whale.
They are extremely rare, and like beaked whales and their larger cousin, they are deep divers and thus are almost never photographed alive.
The pygmy is the slightly larger of the two, at 3.5 meters and 400 kg, equivalent of a bottlenose dolphin.
The dwarf meanwhile is one of the smallest cetaceans in the world, at only 2.7 meters and 250 kg at most, it is only 0.4% the size of the largest sperm whale.
The pictures above show two adult male sperm whales with divers, a sperm whale calf (let’s face it - those chubby cheeks are really cute), a pygmy calf, two pygmy adults, and a dwarf that had been rescued.
What constantly fascinates me about the dwarf and the pygmy are their tiny mouths. Picture this - your body is the rough shape of a sausage, no arms, no legs. On the underside of your head, you have a tiny little hole with sharp teeth. That is your only means of catching your prey, wriggly little squid, in the pitch black waters of the deep ocean.