Sperm Whale Calf

Physeter macrocephalus


How did this skeleton come to the visitor center?

This whale was found in the late 90's near Florence, Oregon, and its cause of death is unknown. A local resident used a backhoe to bury the whale. After a year, when the carcass had been reduced to just the skeleton, they donated it to Hatfield. At its death, this whale was a young newborn with milk teeth. Also, because it was so young, the separate bones of its skull had not fused. Some of these are nested pieces, which made reconstruction challenging.


Sperm Whale Facts

  • Adult Size: 59 feet (the head makes up one-third of their total body), and up to125,440 pounds
  • Life Span: 70 years or more
  • Feeding Habits: This is the largest of the toothed whales and one of the deepest diving mammals on earth. They are pelagic animals, mostly found well offshore. They feed mainly on giant squids at depths of typically 980 feet deep, but they can go as deep as 6,600 feet. They may also take other squid species, octopuses, and fish. These dives can last for more than an hour.
  • Mating and Offspring: Females give birth every 4 to 20 years, and they provide care for their offspring for more than 10 years. Females cooperate to nurse and protect their young.
  • Frequency and Abundance on Oregon Coast: Sperm whales are widely distributed worldwide, but they prefer waters over 3,300 feet deep. They are not uncommon off Oregon's coast during the summer months, but they tend to stay further offshore. They are found in matriarchal pods of up to 20 or more, with older females teaching hunting techniques to younger pod members, including hunting squid in a V-shaped formation.
  • In Alaska, some pods of sperm whales hang out near black cod schools. They have learned to steal the fish from longline fishermen, which they locate when they hear the winches letting down the longline gear. They run the longline through their teeth and "floss" off the fish. The cod fishermen have had to adapt their fishing techniques to stay one step ahead of the whales by having one vessel lower its gear first and distract the whales while the other fishermen can lower their lines and bring in their catch. They share with the vessel that has sacrificed its catch.