Section Navigation Section Navigation. Hunting sperm whales could be dangerous to the crew of whaling ships, as sperm whales will defend themselves against attack, unlike most baleen whales. Sperm whales use their huge head effectively as a battering ram. A famous sperm whale counter-attack occurred on Nov. Only 8 out of 21 sailors survived to be rescued by other ships.
Sperm Whale | NOAA Fisheries
They have the largest brain of any creature known to have lived on Earth. Their heads also hold large quantities of a substance called spermaceti. Whalers once believed that the oily fluid was sperm, but scientists still do not understand the function of spermaceti. One common theory is that the fluid—which hardens to wax when cold—helps the whale alter its buoyancy so it can dive deep and rise again. Sperm whales are known to dive as deep as 3, feet in search of squid to eat. These giant mammals must hold their breath for up to 90 minutes on such dives. Sperm whales are often spotted in groups called pods of some 15 to 20 animals.
Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales and have one of the widest global distributions of any marine mammal species. They are found in all deep oceans, from the equator to the edge of the pack ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. They are named after the waxy substance—spermaceti—found in their heads. The spermaceti is an oil sac that helps the whales focus sound. Spermaceti was used in oil lamps, lubricants, and candles.
The sperm whale, also called a cachalot, made its biggest public splash in the guise of Moby Dick. The whale is generally gray with wrinkled, prune-like skin covering a torpedo-shaped body. The blunt head of the sperm whale accounts for a third of its body length, and much of it is filled with a waxy, oily substance called spermaceti that lies above and in front of the skull.