Sperm Whale

Physeter macrocephalus

On the 24th of August 2003, Tom Peschak found a dead Sperm Whale on an isolate and remote beach near Hawston, Hermanus.

The whale had been dead for a few days already. The carcass presented many interesting scars though: many usual disk-shaped scars in the head region from giant squids, and shark bite scars all over its body. The different sizes of the shark scars suggest that different shark species were scavenging the whale. This whale most probably died offshore, and drifted onshore.

The rib cage was lying half buried about 30 meters off the main carcass.

The sperm whale is the largest odontocete, or toothed whale. It has been portrayed frequently in art and literature as a symbol of the great whales, and is best known as the leviathan Moby Dick in Melville's novel by that name. Unique in appearance, the sperm whale seems to have social characteristics that, to date, also appear to be unique among whales. Sperm whales are among the deepest diving cetaceans, and are found in all oceans of the world.

Sperm whales have huge heads (40% of the body length) and possess the largest brain of any creature that has ever lived on Earth.

The sperm whale received its name from an organ inside its head—the spermaceti organ—that old-time whalers used to believe produced sperm. Instead, the spermaceti organ contains high quality oil.  Sperm whales are very difficult to study because they spend most of their time in open water, away from coastlines.  Sperm whales can dive deeper than 1000 meters in pursuit of giant squid, their primary prey. 

The Sperm Whale presented large Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) bite marks. One proheminent bite mark was behind the head (right top). Other White Shark bite scars were visible on the side of the body.

Smaller shark bite marks, possibly from Bronze Whaler (Carcharhinus brachyurus), Spotted Sevengill Cowsharks (Notorynchus cepedianus) and / or Blue Sharks (Prionace glauca), were found all over the body including the tail region (middle and bottom right).

This Whale species is commonly found in deep waters around the world, but rarely comes close to shore. This is quite a unique landing on South African shores, following the previous one the 6th of October 2001 stranded live at the mouth of the Breede River.

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