Animals / Mammal Facts / Cetacea - Marine Mammals / Sperm Whale - Largest Toothed Predator, Deep Diver

Sperm Whale - Largest Toothed Predator, Deep Diver

sperm whales surfacing


The male sperm whale is a large, very aggressive sea creature that on occasion would attack the whalers that hunted them when they were commonly hunted up until about 30 years ago. The sperm whales are the largest of all toothed predators; there are larger whales (baleen whales) but they don’t have teeth. The enormous, square head of the whales is what distinguishes them from other species. The head may contain incredible quantities of spermaceti (wax), near 2,000 liters, and oil. This is why the whales were considered so valuable and were hunted from about 1750 until around 1980 when hunting was banned. The wax and oil are substances valued for many applications such as a lubricant for fine machinery, soap, candles, lamp oil, etc. The whales use this tremendous amount of oil/wax to control their buoyancy. The overall population count is fairly difficult to assess and may have been as high as 3 million at one time but current estimates range from under 100,000 to more than a million. They are no longer an endangered species but are considered vulnerable internationally.



oil wax


a truck


The blowhole slit of the whales are skewed, not at a right angle to the back like some whales and dolphins. It is also on the left side of the head. They have small flippers, near the rear of the head, that almost appear to be external ears. There are 18 to 26 functional teeth on each side of the lower jaws. One tooth can weigh 2.2 lbs (1kg) and people have used them as ivory. The upper teeth are few, weak, nonfunctional, and mostly never come up through the gums. A male may reach 66 feet (20 m) and 63 tons while the female is much smaller and may reach 41 feet (12 m) and 26 tons. There have even been reports of males up to 69 feet (21 m). The newborns measure about 13 feet (4 m) long and weigh about a ton.


size hunting


Sperm whales form social groups to hang out with, communicating, hunting and traveling the seas together. On average the groups are around 7-8 individuals but can be as many as 40. The male whale will mature at about 18 years. The female can be sexually mature after 9 years and calves usually nurse for about 2 years. They may live to be older than 70 years. The sperm whale feeds mainly on octopus and a number of deepwater fish. They are capable deep diving to extreme depths. They are thought to be able to dive directly down 2 miles or more as long as they can hold their breath (perhaps 90 minutes) without regard for the deep sea pressure.






Animal pages