Photograph by Leonard Medlock.
Notice the blow hole is on the left side of the head.
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 Extreme 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
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 wrote
to me about that sighting and included the following
Westland Michigan in October 1991.
The Sperm Whale mouth is on the underside of the head and is
small compared to that of the baleen whales like the Humpback
Whale. 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. Possession of any part
of a whale or other endangered mammal is now strictly regulated
by federal law.
Sperm Whales forage on the ocean bottom
for squid even the giant squid. They also eat octopus and
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
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 is on the very front of the head and on the
||The Sperm Whale has a single "S"
shaped blow hole on the left side of the head. This can clearly be seen in this
photo by Leonard Medlock taken on the August 2008
Continental Shelf Edge pelagic.
The blow hole is on the forward part
the head making it possible for the Sperm Whale to log
on the surface with its body vertical. The whales are
thought to sleep in the position when resting from very
The blow never appears to be "U"
shaped. Even the blows of Baleen Whales with
double blow holes do not always appear double. See
Behaviors of Whales and Dolphins for pictures of
typical whale blows.
|This Sperm Whale has just turned
toward the boat and you are seeing the single blow hole
which is on the left side of the very front of the huge
squarish head. Photo by David Jones.
There really is no dorsal fin but
rather a series of thick and rounded (not
sharply pointed) humps on the back 1/3 of the body. Note
the wrinkled skin in front of the large hump.
Photograph showing the large
hump followed by a series of small humps on the ridge of
the back. Scott Spangenberg photo.
The flippers of the Sperm Whale are short
and have rounded tips. They are never long like those of a
Humpback Whale. The skin behind the head is wrinkled rather than
smooth in other whales.
Flukes are all dark on the underside.
Raises tail flukes on deep dives. Flukes have a straight
trailing edge broken only by a notch in the center. (Need
||In this photo of the Sperm Whale
the blow hole is on the left side and hidden. What
you are seeing is the large square head that makes up
1/3 of the body length, the wrinkled skin behind the
head and the first and largest of a series of humps on
the final 1/3 of the body.
This is a remarkable photo by
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 for groups with
juveniles of both sexes, but the males leave the group
when they reach puberty.
Young males travel in small
Another fine photo by David Jones.
Some times Sperm Whales lie still at the surface of
the water with the tail hanging down for up to 10 minutes. This is called logging.
Sperm Whales are know to log on the surface and may be approached at
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.
Guide to Marine
Mammals of the World; Randall R. Reeves et al ; Alfred A. Knopf; New