Connecticut State Mammal
Sperm Whale (common name)
Physeter macrocephalus (scientific name)
The sperm whale is a kind of marine mammal and the only member of the genus Physeter. It is the largest living toothed animal and the largest predator. Its brain is the largest of any creature that has ever existed on earth. The sperm whale can dive as deep as 9,800 feet (3 km), making it the deepest-diving mammal. From the early 18th century until the late 20th century, the sperm whale was hunted for spermaceti, which was used to make candles, soap, cosmetics, and machine oil. Other products used were sperm oil and ambergris. The sperm whale became the state animal of Connecticut in 1975. It was chosen because of its specific contribution to the state's history and because of its present-day plight as an endangered species.
ALSO KNOWN AS
Physeter catodon, common cachalot
The sperm whale's unique shape comes from its very large head, which is typically one-third of the animal's length. The blowhole is located very close to the front of the head and shifted to the whale's left. This causes a distinctively bushy, forward-angled spray. The sperm whale's flukes are triangular and very thick. Instead of a dorsal fin, it has a series of ridges on the back's caudal third. Its skin is gray, although albino whales have also been reported. The sperm whale has 20 to 26 teeth on each side of its lower jaw. The teeth are cone-shaped and weigh up to 1 kg each. The eyes are unable to swivel in their sockets. Echolocation through sound waves is therefore a far more important sense to these animals than vision.
The sperm whale can live for more than 70 years.
Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Arctic Ocean. Sperm whales roam the deep waters of all the oceans, though they seldom approach polar ice fields and are most common in temperate and tropical latitudes. They also have been seen occasionally near coastlines in the Gulf of Mexico, where they were once quite common.
Sperm whales live in groups called pods. Pods of females and their young live separately from older males. The females cooperate to protect and nurse their young. They care for their calves for more than a decade. Males leave these "nursery pods" between 4 and 21 years of age and join a "bachelor pod" with other males of similar age and size. As males grow older, they tend to disperse into smaller groups, and the oldest males usually live solitary lives. Their most common non-human attacker is the orca. This predator targets groups of females with calves, usually trying to extract and kill a calf. Female sperm whales repel these attacks by encircling their calves.
Conservation Status: Endangered. The number of sperm whales throughout the world is thought to be in the hundreds of thousands. Entanglement in fishing nets and collisions with ships represent the greatest threats to the sperm whale population. Other current threats include ingestion of marine debris, ocean noise, and chemical pollution.
Fish and squid, including giant squid and colossal squid
Breeding interval: 3–6 years
Birthing period: Year-round
Average litter size: 1 calf
Size at birth: Length: 4 m (13 ft); weight: 1,000 kg
Click to enlarge an image
Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Author: World Trade Press