Sperm Whales

Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), made famous by the book Moby Dick, are incredible animals in many ways. Most startling is that these whales, which have evolved from land mammals, can dive and feed as deep as 2,200 metres. The fact that they can 'see' in complete darkness, pinpoint their prey, hold breath for as long as an hour and aren't crushed by pressure 220 times what we experience above water, is a miracle of evolution. 

Snorkel with a Sperm Whale in Sri Lanka - underwater photography by Ralph Pannell Aqua-Firma

Unlike the great baleen whales where the females are slightly larger than males; male sperm whales are substantially larger than females reaching 19m and 50 tonnes as compared to about 12m and 25 tonnes. The males can also dive much deeper, with a mere 1,000m being enough for a female.

Sperm Whales live in all the seas: from the Equator to Antarctica and the Arctic. One of the best places in the world to see them is Dominica, where some are resident year round. Here we have secured special permits to snorkel with Sperm Whales. 

Another good location to see Sperm Whales is far out to sea off the east coast of Sri Lanka. March is best, which is when we have managed to secure limited permits to Snorkel with Whales and Dolphins here. Which cetaceans we encounter varies, but our primary targets are Blue Whales,  Sperm Whales,  Brydes Whales and Pilot Whales, as well as Risso's and Indian Ocean Bottlenose Dolphins. 

Seeing a Sperm Whale full scale underwater is an incredible experience - they are simply made like no other living creature. From the surface,  their large single nostril is what you are most likely to see first; always positioned on the front left side of their huge rectangular head. Their 'blow' is consequently angled. 

Underwater, you will see what looks like a submarine at the front, narrowing at the back to a incredibly muscular peduncle which drives its tail fluke. The body is covered in ridges, as well as significant scars. Here's about those scars: 

Sperm Whales versus Giant Squid 

The primary food of a sperm whale is squid. This includes deep water giant squid which can exceed 12 meters in length. The tentacles of a giant squid have sufficient suction to damage a sperm whale's skin; and their mandibles can cut a sperm whale as the squid tries to fight it off. Consequently sperm whales will often bear scars from a lifetime of preying on such a powerful predator in it's own right.

  • Snorkelling with a Sperm Whale in Dominica


Sri Lanka

  • Pair of Sperm Whales in Sri Lanka
  • Sperm Whales in NE Sri Lanka
  • Sperm Whales in Sri Lanka
  • Sperm Whale Tails showing moulting surface skin


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