Sperm whales' name
Name: Roger W Malone
Could you tell me why the Sperm whale is called a Sperm Whale?
Pretty much as you'd guess. The head of the sperm whale contains a huge
bony container that is filled with a white viscous liquid composed of oil
and a white waxy substance called spermaceti ("sperm of whale" in Latin,
"cetus" being Latin for "whale"). Early on people thought the spermaceti
was the whale's sperm, no doubt from its appearance, and the name stuck
even after people knew better. I'm not sure there's agreement even today
on what the whale DOES do with the stuff, though. Last I heard the idea
was the whale focussed sound waves through it to stun its prey, which
explains how the young whales can eat, since they supposedly don't grow any
teeth until they're ten years old. The sperm whale diet is principally
squid, and they can hold their breath for an hour at a time and dive deeper
than most submarines to find them.
Sperm whales were hunted for centuries for their oil and the spermaceti.
"Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville, which you mentioned, is indeed about hunting
sperm whales, and gives you a feeling for what it's like to do this (not
nice). It's a wonderful book, but difficult to understand and appreciate.
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Update: June 2012