Really fragrant operation! Sperm Whale: What kind of incense do you say?

Really fragrant operation! Sperm Whale: What kind of incense do you say?

1. The origin of the name of the Ambergris

The “ambergris” is called its name because it fails to digest the squid and octopus’s coracoid bones, which causes the end of the large intestine or the rectum to be stimulated to cause lesions, resulting in a gray or blackish secretion, which gradually A thick dark substance formed in the small intestine and weighed 100-1000 grams in blocks. With a maximum diameter of 165 cm, this substance is called “ambergris” (

However, after being washed for years by sunlight, air, and seawater, it will harden, fade, and emit fragrance. It can be used to make perfumes. Ambergris is also the most precious Chinese medicine in various animal excreta, which is extremely rare. Occasionally, a piece weighing 50 to 100 kilograms is worth a lot, and the sperm whale gets its name.

Figure 1. Ambergris

2. Introduction to Sperm Whale

The sperm whale has a huge head and a small jaw, and only the jaw has teeth. Mainly eat squid. With a body length of up to 18 meters and a weight of more than 50 tons, it is the largest toothed whale with a head that can account for 1/3 of the body and no dorsal fins. It has a strong diving ability and is the deepest diving and the longest diving mammal.

He looks like a fish and breathes with his lungs. The neck is short, the head seems to be connected to the trunk; the cervical spine is healed; the nostrils are spray holes, located at the end of the snout, the forelimbs are finned, the forearms have degenerated, the palms are longer, and the number of toes is increased, but the toes and claws are not visible from the outside; the hind limbs are degenerated; Tail-like fish, with horizontal tail fins, swimming waved tail.

sperm whale vs sperm cell
Figure 2. sperm whale vs sperm cell

3. Brainless sperm whale?

Although the head of the sperm whale occupies 1/3 of the body, most of the space is a real oil. The color is yellow and translucent. It is rich in oil and brain water. To describe sperm whale may be worthy of the name. Among the existing creatures, the sperm whale is undoubtedly the largest animal in the brain, and there is no one. Although the sperm whale is calculated according to body size, it is not as big as the blue whale, but the head of the blue whale is much smaller than the sperm whale, which is determined by the proportion of the head. So why hasn’t a sperm whale such a big brain evolved a high IQ civilization? We often hear old people praising children, “This child is really big, and he must be very smart in reading.” Many people think that big head means high IQ.

However, after years of research by scientists, it has been found that animals with large brains do have a high probability of showing high IQ, but this does not mean that high IQ and brain size are necessarily related. Research data shows that if the brain is too large, it will hinder the development of IQ. Take the sperm whale and human brain volume for comparison. The sperm whale’s brain volume is five times larger than the human brain volume, but the sperm whale’s IQ is far inferior to that of humans.

Group of sperm whale (Image copy right: @Wade Hughes)
Group of sperm whale (Image copy right: @Wade Hughes)
Figure 3. Group of a sperm whale (Image copyright: @Wade Hughes) http://(

Later, scientists discovered that IQ originated from the nervous system, and the nervous system depends on neurons, so the IQ level depends on the density of neurons. A female scientist used a method to smash the brain, dissolve the cell membrane and other components with a special solution, but retain the nucleus of the neuron to make a suspension. After dilution, take a few drops and put it under a microscope under a number microscope. The number of nuclei, calculated as the average, and finally multiplied by the dilution factor and the ratio of the total amount of suspension and a drop of droplets, we can get a more accurate number of neurons in the brain.

Figure 5. Neuron

Although the brain of the sperm whale is large, there are not many neurons in it. Experiments show that humans have about 100 billion neurons, five times the number of sperm whale neurons. Therefore, although the sperm whale has a large brain, its IQ is not very high.

4. Life habits of sperm whale

Sperm whales prefer to live in groups, often formed by a small number of male whales and large groups of female whales and young whales, forming a large group of more than tens of hundreds, even two to three hundred. It reaches more than a dozen nautical miles, and the sperm whale has excellent diving ability. The deep diving can reach 2200 meters and can stay underwater for two hours.

Sleeping behavior of sperm whale
Figure 6. Sleeping behavior of sperm whale

Because the sperm whale has a long diving time, the chance of seeing it on the sea is not great, but its special shape and jet make it not easy to be confused with other large whales. The sperm whale that floats between the two dives will float or swim slowly on the surface of the sea. It looks like a huge driftwood; the jet left about 45 degrees left is low and bushy. There are often movements of jumping waves or whale tail waves.

The sperm whale floats on the water and sleeps, and the sleep is very heavy, often floating on the water for several hours. The ship stopped at sea at night. During the rafting, whales are often found sleeping peacefully beside the boat. The reproduction speed of sperm whales is slow. Female whales cannot mature until the age of 9 years, while male whales have a longer maturation period. Adult female whales only conceive once every 4-6 years, and each baby whale rarely has twins, and their lactation period is up to two years. The breeding ground is generally in tropical and subtropical seas between 40 degrees south and north latitudes.

Read more :


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  • Marino, Lori (2004). “Cetacean Brain Evolution: Multiplication Generates Complexity”(PDF). International Society for Comparative Psychology (17): 1–16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-11-20. Retrieved 2010-08-29.
  • Pabst D, McLellan WA, Rommel SA. How to build a deep diver: the extreme morphology of mesoplodonts. Integr Comp Biol. 2016;56: 1337–1348. pmid:27940620.
  • Raven, H. C. (1942). Some morphological adaptations of cetaceans (whales and porpoises) for life in the water. Transactions of the New York Academy of Science, 5, 23-29.
  • Rice, D. W. (1989). Sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus Linnaeus, 1758. In S. H. Ridgway & R. Harrison (Eds.), Handbook of marine mammals. Volume 3: River dolphins and the larger toothed whales (pp. 177-233). San Diego: Academic Press.

Rajitha Dissanayake

Researcher in the field of Marine Mammals and Bio-acoustic

I'm a master’s scholar in marine mammals and bio-acoustic laboratory, Institute of Deep-Sea Science and Engineering (IDSSE), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and focusing on the sustainable environmental application, conservation, and exploring all aspects of the ecology and behavior of marine mammals.

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