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Sperm Whales in Cabo San Lucas

Sperm Whales in Cabo San Lucas are typically encountered on days with the best conditions and usually further off shore than most other species of whales. The Sperm Whales we see in Cabo San Lucas are often hunting in the deep ocean trenches over the offshore fishing banks where they find their favorite food, squid. The Sperm Whales we see are usually small groups of females and juveniles who do not migrate to the poles like the much larger males. So the opportunity to encounter Sperm Whales in Cabo San Lucas is really year round. But it does take some luck!

You can download general Sperm Whale information on this page kindly prepared and shared by the American Cetacean Society.

Classification

During the days of commercial whaling, sperm whales were so named because when the head was cut open it was found to contain a milky white substance, and the whalers thought the large square head was a huge reservoir for sperm. Additionally, an intestinal secretion called ambergris is found in sperm whales which was used as a fixative in the perfume industry and was at one time worth more than its weight in gold (this is no longer the case).

Appearance

The sperm whale belongs to the suborder of toothed whales and dolphins (odontocetes) and is one of the easiest whales to identify at sea. The angled bushy blow is distinctive from a distance as a sperm whale has a single blowhole on the left side. Near the front of the head and close up, its enormous square-shaped head and wrinkly skin are unmistakable. The skin is dark grey or brownish grey, with white markings around the lower jaw and underside. The sperm whale’s huge head, which is up to 1/3 of its overall body length, houses the heaviest brain in the animal kingdom. It also contains a cavity large enough for a small car to fit inside which holds a yellowish wax known as spermaceti oil, thought to help in buoyancy control when diving and act as an acoustic lens. They have between 40-52 teeth in their long, narrow lower jaw. These are thick and conical, and can grow to 20cm long and weigh 1kg each. The sperm whale has a relatively short, stubby flippers and a low hump instead of a dorsal fin, with ‘knuckles’ stretching from the hump along their backs to their triangular tail flukes, which are raised when diving. Most females, but few males, have calluses on the dorsal hump.

Behaviour

The sperm whale is one of the deepest diving mammals in the world. Typically it makes dives of up to 400 m, but can reach depths of up to 2-3km. It is thought to be able to hold its breath for up to two hours, although 45 minutes is the average dive time. Some sperm whales have scars on their bodies caused by giant squid tentacles during fights. Although sperm whales are known to eat a wide variety of sea creatures their major prey items are deep-water squid which they are believed to ‘catch’ by the suction method of eating. Sperm whales can be quite gregarious and are known to breach, spyhop and lobtail. A sperm whale spends most of its life in either ‘nursery schools’ (adult females with young) or ‘bachelor schools’ (males between seven and 27 years of age) although older males tend to live on their own or in very small groups and join nursery schools during the breeding season. The only natural predator of the sperm whale is the orca and even then most attacks are not thought to be fatal. During such attacks however, the females show defensive behaviour of calves by creating a ring with the calves in the centre – called a ‘marguerite’. These rings may have their heads or tails on the outside.

Distribution

Sperm whales are found in most of the world’s oceans, except the high Arctic and prefer deep water. They can be found in large numbers where food is abundant, and where the sea temperature suits them. This species has been drastically affected by commercial whaling in the past and numbers are thought to have been decimated. Sperm whales are still threatened by hunting – principally by Japan. Sperm whales are at risk from human disturbance and whaling, chemical and noise pollution and entanglement in fishing nets. The current worldwide population is not known and the conservation status of the sperm whale is listed as Vulnerable (IUCN 2008).

Mexican name:
  • Cachalote
Maximum length:
  • Male: 18.3m
  • Female: 12m
  • Calf: 3.5m
Maximum weight:
  • Male: 57,000kg
  • Female: Unknown
  • Calf: Unknown
Diet:
  • Squid
Estimated population:

100,000

IUCN Listing:

VU

CITES Appendix:

I

CMS Appendix:

I, II


cabo san lucas sperm whale map

Known range of the Sperm Whale