Why Is A Sperm Whale Called A Sperm Whale?

The Animalista sperm whale
By: Brenda
We wanted to know why a sperm whale was called that, we searched but couldn't get all of the relevent information in one place, so we wrote one ourselves.

Known as the largest of the toothed whales. Sperm whales are pelagic mammals known for their narrow lower jaw and square peghead. The males are 19 meters long, which is five times the length of a large elephant. While the females are 12 meters in length. Apart from their physical attributes, one question that most people tend to ask is, why is a sperm whale called a sperm whale? Well, the answer isn’t farfetched read on to find out more about why is this larger than life mammal is called that.

Why is a sperm whale called a sperm whale?

The name of the sperm whale is said to have originated in the 18th to 19th century when the commercial whaling industry discovered that these species of whales contained a fluid-filled organ known as the spermaceti organ. The spermaceti organ contained a white liquid (sperm oil) that was mistaken for sperm by whalers. It is from this spermaceti organ that this whale derived its name. 

At that time, the sperm oil produced from the spermaceti organ was the most sought-after by the whaling industry. It was used in the production of candles, oil lamps, ointments, cream, fine wax, candles, and other industrial lubricants.

Besides, another liquid present in the digestive system of the mammal, which was important to the whaling industry, is Ambergris, a reliable waxy waste product. The wax was used as a fixative in perfumes and many other products. 

The Animalista sperm whale taking swim

Physical characteristics of the sperm whale

To find out more about the question, why these whales got their name? It is also vital to look at some of the physical characteristics of this mammal. Ideally, the male reaches their sexuality at 18 years old, while the females at 9. The males breed with multiple females, leading to pregnancy that lasts up to 15 months. The birth of a new whale is usually a social ceremony. Other whales in the pod form a protective barrier around the new mother and her calf.

In terms of their life span, the sperm whales live about 70 years and above. The male reaches its full size and stops growing at 50.

In addition, this mammal is known for their speed, the sperm whale’s normal cruising speed ranges between 5 to 15 kph, they swim approximately 35 to 45 kph, and they are capable of maintaining the same speed for more than one hour. They are known to be the third deepest diving mammals plunging to 2,250 meters (7,382 ft). 

Why the sperm whale has a huge head

 Furthermore, taking a critical look at why these whales have a huge head can help bring a clearer understanding of why is a sperm whale called a sperm whale. 

Generally, sperm whales are known for their huge head, which makes up a third of their body mass. 

This head helps the whale to burn a huge amount of energy daily as it drives through the water. According to early whalers, the head of the these whales contains the finest quality oil, and about 2000 liters of this oil lay in a huge sac known as the spermaceti organ. 

As described above, this oil, which can be used for pharmaceutical products and lubricant benefits not only humans; it also plays a lot of roles in the lives of the whales themselves. 

For more than 100 years, it was believed that the sac of oil helps whales adjust their buoyancy when dived into the depth of water to find its favorite prey. It reduces blood flow to the spermaceti organic and allows these whales to sink and focus after its prey. 

Are sperm whales social?

The Animalista pod of sperm whales

Sperm whales aren’t known to be social. When not breeding, adult male sperm whales live on their own, while the female and their offspring gather into a pod of up to 20 members. These animals spend most of their time hunting and engaging in social behaviors that include calling on each other when attacked. Usually, when they sense an attack on a member, these animals form a “marguerite formation,” and surround the vulnerable member using their tails to ensure every harasser is warded off.

8 Fun facts about sperm whales

To help you get a better understanding of the question, why is the sperm whale called that? Here are eight fun facts you need to know about these mammals. 

  1. Sperm whales have the biggest brains on earth; their brain is five times heavier than that of humans. 
  2. The sperm whale is named after spermaceti, a waxy substance found in their body. 
  3. Sperm whales fertilize the ocean with their feces which is usually consumed by phytoplankton when floating upwards
  4. A sperm whale’s heart weighs 125 kg which is the same as the weight of two average adult human
  5. The highest sound pressure level recorded by an animal was from a sperm whale, which took place off northern Norway’s copy. 
  6. Can grow to a maximum of 52 feet and weight of 90,000 pounds (40 metric tons)
  7. Sperm whales live up to 70 years. 
  8. They stay under the water for more than 1 hour at a time. 
The Animalista sperm whale showing his massive head

How do sperm whales hunt?

Well, sperm whales eat almost 2000 pounds of food daily. To find their prey, they dive into the water and go as far as 2km down the sea to hunt. Using echolocation that majorly focuses on their prey.


Finally, this article has done justice to answer the common question asked by so many people as to why a sperm whale is called a sperm whale? However, that isn’t all; it is vital to state that some of the natural largest threats to these mammals are killer whales, pilot whales, and false killer whales, which harass them and kill their calf and female. However, the male is generally too large and aggressive to be hunted. 


By: Brenda

Contributing Professional

The Animalista professional contributors are comprised of licensed Veterinarians and certified Veterinary Technicians who have been vetted by our team and have either authored or reviewed this content for accuracy. 


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