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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones
Other Sea Life


Toothed Whales

Sperm Whale

Pilot Whale

Beaked Whales


Toothed Whales


Sperm Whale

Physeter macrocephalus

Comments to webmaster

Spern Whale Head Dave Jones

Sperm Whale photographed by Dave Jones.  The right part of the animal in the picture is the top of the huge head followed by the wrinkled skin of the back and finally the first of several humps on the back 1/3 of the body.

Toothed Whale
Like all toothed whales and dolphin the Sperm Whale has a single blow hole which is unusually located on the front of the head and on the left side. The mouth is on the underside of the head and is small compared to that of the baleen whales.

Sperm Whales have teeth only in the lower jaw. Teeth may be from 3" to 7-8" tall. The best place to see sperm whale teeth is in a whaling museum where carved specimens are called scrimshaw.

 President John F. Kennedy owned a piece of scrimshaw given to him by his wife as a Christmas present.

Possession of any part of a whale or other endangered mammal is now strictly regulated by federal law and very realistic plastic replicas are widely available as book ends and jewelry.

Sperm Whales forage on the ocean bottom for squid even the giant squid. They also eat octopus and rays. They are not filter feeders like the baleen whales and do not have throat pleats to expand the capacity of their mouths and throats.

Identification at Sea
The peculiar shape of the Sperm Whale that is most often depicted in cartoons and drawings as a typical whale. It is far from typical.

This under water picture of a female Sperm Whale and her calf shows the real shape of this whale.
Identification at Sea
The peculiar shape of the Sperm Whale is most often depicted in cartoons and drawings as a typical whale. It is far from typical.
If you could get a diver's eye view of a Sperm Whale you have no trouble identifying the large square head of the Sperm Whale. For a good underwater drawing of a sperm whale see

At sea you will most probably be looking down at the top of the whale from a boat and the first identification clue will be the shape and direction of the blow. The bushy blow is low compared to Fin and Blue Whales gigantic fountains. The blow hole is centered on the head of all other whales and dolphins. On the Sperm Whale it is on the very front of the head and on the left side.

This picture shows that the blow of the Sperm Whale is from the front left side of the head and blows forward instead of straight up.  You can also see the wrinkled skin just behind the head and the first of several humps on the back 1/3 of the body. Dave Jones

Sperm Whale single blow hole Dave Jones

The above picture shows the long single blow hole located on the front left side of the head.  A really nice picture from Dave Jones.

Sperm Whale wrinkled skin behind head Jon Woolf

This photograph by Jon Woolf is close up of  the wrinkled skin behind the head and the first of the series of humps on the dorsal side. Head is to the right.

Social Behavior
In the baleen whales social behavior is limited to the relationship between a mother and a calf and loose feeding groups that associate only for a short time. See the cooperative feeding of the Humpback Whale described on that page. Toothed whales and dolphins form more permanent group bonds.

Sperm Whales form groups of 10-15 animals although in all my years of whale watching I have never seen more than two at a time. Females form groups with juveniles of both sexes, but the males leave the group when they reach puberty. Young males travel in small groups meeting up with females only for breeding..

Logging and Diving
Sperm Whales may lie still at the surface of the water with the tail hanging down for up to 10 minutes. When logging. Sperm Whales may be approached.  Good for photographers.

Females sometimes protect the young by placing them in the center of a circle of adults with heads toward the center of the circle and tails outside. This is called the Marguerite Formation and made life easy for whalers.

Sperm whales are deep divers and can hold their breath for up to an hour. Flukes are lifted high just before the whale begins a deep or terminal dive.

Where To See Sperm Whales
Sperm Whales can be found in all oceans. They frequent the continental shelf edges and shelves around islands. You will probably not see a Sperm Whale on Stellwagen Bank. Look for it on one of the longer trips to the Continental Shelf Edge.

The author has seen Sperm Whales several times on pelagic trips from Massachusetts. One time the whale was right next to the boat and we could see the wrinkled skin behind the head. The other times including the August 23, 2008 BBC Pelagic when the whales were spotted in relatively shallow water near Nantucket Shoals we could only see the blow and the back of the whale as it lolled on the surface.

In October of 1991 three Sperm Whales were spotted from a Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch off Race Point on Cape Cod in about 200' of water. This sighting was so rare it was reported in the Cape Cod Times.

 Recently a reader from Michigan wrote to me about that sighting and included the following picture.

Photo by Frank Omilian,
Westland Michigan in October 1991.

Whales, White Sharks and  wildlife in general have proved to be good for tourism and the economy.

Sperm Whale off Race Point

Other Sea Life  | Cetaceans  |   Toothed Whales | Sperm Whale  Pilot Whale   Beaked Whales       Comments to webmaster       Top of Page

Folkens, Peter (2002) Guide to Marine Mammals of the World Alfred A. Knopf New York

Kinze, Carl Charistian (2001) Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic Princeton University Press Princeton NJ