Sperm whale

Scientific name: Physeter catodon (from Greek physeter = phusa = wind and, by extension, phûseter = blower, and makro= large and képhalé= head)





The largest of all ondontocetes
SizeMajor sexual dimorphism


16-18 m – 30-45 tons
11-12 m – 10-20 tons
3-5 m – about 1 ton
HeadSquared and massive, about ¼ to 1/3 of total body length (the largest head in the animal kingdom). Characteristic lower jaw: narrow and slim (0.5 x 3 m long), with 17 to 30 conical teeth, 10-20 cm long, on each side. Small eyes, not easily visible. A single S-shaped blowhole, very close to the front of the head and shifted to the whale’s left. Contains a special wax, the spermaceti, which used to be of great value for the industry, particularly as a lubricant of watches.
BodySquat and massive. Skin wrinkled, particularly in the posterior 2/3 of body. Coloration from dark grey to brown, margins of mouth and throat often whiter, and lighter patches of variable size and shape on the belly. 
Dorsal finA ridge more or less marked, followed by 4 to 8 knobs of decreasing size towards the tail.
TailTriangular with a deep median notch. When diving, sperm whales take a vertical head-down position and lift the tail out of water, which is handy for photo-identification.
BlowCharacteristic blow, powerful and bushy, 5 to 7 m tall, inclined by 45° forward and to the left.

Cosmopolitan, found in all the world’s oceans. Females with young remain in temperate and tropical waters, whereas large males may frequent cold polar waters. During winter, they migrate toward the Tropics to breed, and return to high latitudes in summer to feed.

Sperm whales are found in prevalence at the margins of the continental shelf, in waters deeper than 200 m, in pursuit of squids living in sub-marine canyons.

Nowhere abundant in the Mediterranean, but regular in the Alborán Sea and Gibraltar Strait, all the way to the Levant basin. Not exceptional in the Algerian-Ligurian basin, Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, south of Crete and all along the Aegean Arch, and the Aegean Sea; rarer near the Sicily Channel and the southern Adriatic Sea. Numbers have apparently declined in recent years, however reliable population estimates where never performed. Preliminary genetic data suggest a significant degree of isolation from the Atlantic. Absent from the Black Sea.