Lords of the Sea: The Common Cachalot - Sperm Whale
Physeter catodon - the common Cachalot, otherwise known as the Sperm Whale, is the second largest animal in the world, and has the largest brain of any animal. Cachalot is derived from the Portugese/Spanish word 'Cachola', which means 'big head'. The Sperm Whale was known as a 'Cachalote' by its whalers.
Apart from being the largest toothed whale, the huge Sperm Whale can dive up to 3700 feet (1130 metres!) making it one of the deepest diving mammals. The head of a Sperm Whale is filled with spermaceti oil, which is likely a mechanism to allow for deep dives, and is after this oil that the whale derives its name.
Spermaceti oil played a very important part in the industrial revolution, being a key lubricant for machinery. Unfortunately this led to over-hunting, significantly affecting the balance of the sexes as whalers targeted the larger males.
A sperm whale a very large head which makes up around a third of its body length, mainly to accommodate its large brain. They were known to grow to a length of 90 feet (27 metres) and weigh around 120 tons, but the largest in modern times measure around 60 feet (18 metres) and weigh around 50 tons.
Sperm whales can live up to 75 years and are currently considered a 'vulnerable' species on conservation lists. There were over 2 million Sperm Whales a century ago, but the population has dwindled to less than 250,000 in modern times.
Sperm Whales feed on squid (including the giant squid!), sharks, skate and other deep water fish. It was a Sperm Whale that was hunted in the famous Herman Melville novel Moby-Dick. Sperm whales are found in all deep oceans, from the equator to the edge of the pack ice in the Arctic and Antarctic.
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