Sperm Whales of the Atlantic

A Key West glass bottom boat tour is the perfect way to get to know the waters around this quirky Florida island. Passengers will get the chance to not only admire the clear waters and coral reefs that the island is famous for, but to also see a multitude of exotic animals, from the tiny sea horse to the immense sperm whale.

Sperm Whale Appearance

Sperm whales are usually a black color with wrinkled skin on their back, though white whales, like the fictional Moby Dick, have also been spotted. They have a S-shaped blowhole on the top left side of their head, which they breath through. The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales, a category separate from a baleen whale, which doesn't have teeth. One way to tell the age of a sperm whale is by examining its teeth. These whales can grow to be as long as 70 feet and weigh up to 62 short tons. Female sperm whales are significantly smaller than males. They are a blocky shape with large heads and long, narrow jaws, and instead of a dorsal fin have a hump on their back.

Female sperm whales are fertile for about half of their lives, or 30 years, from about age 10 to age 40. Male sperm whales do not become sexually mature until almost age 20. Despite their many years of fertility, these whales only breed every few years and can even go a couple decades between calves. When they do have offspring, however, they care for them for several years, both breastfeeding and protecting them from predators until they are large enough and mature enough to take care of themselves. Females and juveniles travel together in pods, while adult males instead are solitary and only come around when it is time to breed.

Sperm Whale Eating Habits

Sperm whales need to eat about a ton a day to maintain their huge weight. They do this by going on hunting dives, usually only a few hundred feet but sometimes up to 7,000 feet, making them the second deepest diving mammal. They can go an astounding hour and a half without breathing while hunting, and can also hunt while upside down.

Their main source of food is squid, including deep sea squid which are large enough to provide even such a massive hunter a challenge. Whales have been found with scars and injuries that seem to come from battles with their prey. They use echolocation to hunt, and are actually the loudest animal on earth. They also use their eyesight when hunting, though not all their senses are as strong. They are not thought to have a particularly good sense of smell or taste.

Sperm Whale Habitats

Sperm whales can be found in any ocean deep enough to support them. Female whales tend to stick to warmer tropical and sub-tropical waters, but the males range farther afield into the higher latitudes. Because of their hunting pattern and their size, they generally stick to deeper offshore waters, but can sometimes be seen closer to shore as long as the water is deep enough. They are also, sadly, more prone than most sea mammals to beaching themselves, which can be deadly.