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Sperm whale

Sperm whale

Physeter macrocephalus

Sperm whale
Male: Up to 15.5 m, 50 t
Female: Up to 10 m, 20 t
Slope - pelagic
Deep-sea squids
Sighting frequency
Underwater noise, ship strike
Conservation status
Conservation status

It is the largest living predator and can be found in virtually all of the world's seas. The head makes up nearly one-third of its entire body and contains the spermaceti, an oily substance for which this species was fiercely hunted in the past. Unlike true whales, it has teeth, although only on its jaw, and thus is classified as an odontocete. It can dive to more than 2000 m depth and hold its breath for over two hours.

In the Pelagos Sanctuary, it feeds on squids that live at 500-800 m depth, remaining underwater for about 45 minutes. Afterward, it recovers at the surface, floating almost stationary for about 15 minutes and breathing at regular intervals.



In the Sanctuary, males are most frequently encountered, either solitary or in small aggregations. In recent years social units consisting of females with their young (family groups) have also been observed, but usually distributed further south. 
Like all odontocetes, the sperm whale has a 'biosonar', which enables it to use sound waves to 'see', orient itself, and hunt in the dark, as bats do. The animal emits sound waves and, by analyzing returning echoes, it is able to identify the presence of prey and distinguish the characteristics of the seabed.

  • Sperm whale
  • Sperm whale

How to recognise species and distinguish individuals

By the notches on the margin of the ventral side of the fluke as well as any whitish spots, which may also be present on the body.

  • Sperm whale

In the Pelagos Sanctuary, sperm whales make 45-50 minute dives to hunt squid living in the depths

Did you know that…

In family groups, grandmothers, mothers, and aunts are very protective and, in case of danger, they arrange themselves in a circular, daisy-like formation with the juveniles and offspring at the center. The sperm whale's 'nose', called a blowhole, consists of a single orifice and is offset slightly to the left of the center of the head.

  • Sperm whale