What is Sperm Whale?

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Scientists studying the sperm whales have described for the first time the basic elements of how they might be talking to each other.

About Sperm Whale

  • It is the largest of the toothed whales, easily recognized by its enormous square head and narrow lower jaw.
  • It has the largest head and the largest brain of any animal on the planet.
  • Scientific Name: Physeter macrocephalus
  • They are named after the waxy substance—spermaceti—found in their heads.
    • The spermaceti is an oil sac that helps the whales focus sound. Spermaceti was used in oil lamps, lubricants, and candles
  • Distribution:
    • They have one of the widest global distributions of any marine mammal species.
    • They are found in all deep oceans, from the equator to the edge of the pack ice in the Arctic and Antarctic.
  • Features:
    • The sperm whale is dark blue-gray or brownish, with white patches on the belly.
    • It has small paddle-like flippers and a series of rounded humps on its back.
    • Lifespan: Up to 60 years
    • They are highly social mammals that communicate with one another using a series of clicks called codas, and that each coda has a distinct purpose.
    • Ambergris, a material sometimes found floating in the sea, is formed in thesperm whale’s intestines around a core of undigested solid matter such as squid beaks.

What is Ambergris?

  • Floating Gold, or Ambergris (commonly identified as a lump of vomit), is a substance extracted from the bile duct in the intestines of sperm whales.
  • It is a waxy, solid and inflammable substance.
  • The freshly passed ambergris is a light yellowish substance.
  • It is produced by about one in every hundred sperm whales. 
  • Chemically, ambergris contains alkaloids, acids, and a specific compound called ambreine, which is similar to cholesterol. 
  • It is a rare substance, which contributes to its high demand and high price in the international market.
  • Uses:
    • It has predominantly been employed in the creation of perfumes and fragrances.
    • Ambergris has a woody scent like sandalwood but also contains ambrein, an odorless alcohol that can fix and extend the life of scents, hence its popularity among perfumers.
  • There is a ban on the possession and trade of ambergris in countries like the USA, Australia, and India.

Q1: What are alkaloids?

Alkaloids are a class of basic, naturally occurring organic compounds that contain at least one nitrogen atom. Alkaloids have diverse and important physiological effects on humans and other animals. Well-known alkaloids include morphine, strychnine, quinine, ephedrine, and nicotine, piperine, caffeine etc. Many alkaloids have commercial importance as they have different medicinal properties.

Source: How do sperm whales talk to each other? MIT scientists decode basic elements of communication system