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Sperm Whale Calf

Physeter macrocephalus


How did this skeleton come to the visitor center?

Obtained in the late 90s near Florence, Oregon. Cause of death unknown. The skeleton was buried soon after its discovery by a local resident, who buried it with a backhoe for a year and then it was donated to Hatfield. At the time of its death, this whale was a young newborn that still had its milk teeth. Also, because it was so young, the separate bones of the skull had not fused. Some of these are nested pieces, making reconstruction challenging.


Sperm Whale Facts

  • Adult size-59 feet (the head makes up 1/3 of the total body), and up to125,440 lbs
  • 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 off shore, feeding on mainly giant squid at depths of 980 feet, up to 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 four to twenty years and 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 throughout the world, but prefer waters over 3,300 feet deep. They are not uncommon off our coast during the summer months, however they tend to stay further off shore. They are found 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 try to stay one step ahead of the whales, by having one vessel lower its gear first, and attracting the attention of the whales, then the other fishermen can lower their lines and bring in their catch, which they share with the vessel that has sacrificed its catch.