Subject: Moby Dick

Kim Marshall (kim@Whale.Org)
Mon, 24 Feb 1997 20:38:18 -0500 (EST)

Dear Jeanne-Marie,

Even I had trouble reading Moby Dick - you will appreciate it when your
I read from the Norton Critical Edition of Moby Dick that explains the
hard-reading sentences.

Chapter 68 - the skin of a whale peels off in small, finger-length,
transparent greyish-brown pieces constantly to ensure speed in the water.
Their skin is very sensitive and feels like the inside of your mouth.  When
they breach or jump, the skin comes off in large amounts.  When we studies
sperm whales in the Galapagos we would dip a strainer in thewater near
whales and pick up skin which we would preserve for genetic analysis.  It
is called sloughed skin.

Chapter 69-70 -
I have taken a bunch of sperm whale facts that I hope help to answer your
Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales - Moby Dick was a
white/albino sperm whale.  (their teeth are 10" and weight 4 lbs!) and most
abundant of great whales.  They are sexually dimorphic, males are huge
reaching 60ft length, weigh up to 60 tons. Sperm whales travel in large
groups of mostly females, young males and calves with the older larger
bulls joining these groups briefly for mating. They form circles called
margarita formations to ward off killer whales and young males attempting
to mate - they also become silent!! so predators can't find them. Sometimes
they turn belly up to aid vision as upward vision is restricted by their
large heads upsided now whales could use both eyes together improving depth
perception - white mouths play a role in visual comm between members

- They are very numerous, 3000 or so in Galapagos area permanently made up
of females 28-38ft long, young males and calves - mostly genetically
related.  Female society cooperative with rearing calves, bonded for life -
young males leave around 6-7 yrs old and migrate to cooler seas forming
bachelor groups - Kaikoura, New Zealand.

- It was thought that sperm whales lived in harems.  We now know that there
are No harems - just like elephants -  males bulls rove singly among
families of females spending only an hour or so with each searching for
receptive females.  See only 7 or less a season of the bulls because they
roam to the poles - males not sex and socially mature until 27 or so - can
live to 60 or more years. Unfortunately many of the large bulls were killed
off during the whaling days.  Males not sex and socially mature until 27 or
so - can live to 60 or more years.
- Why do we call them Sperm whales - because they have a huge sac in their
head called the spermaceti organ that is filled with a fibrous gel like,
substance called spermaceti. This is the oil which was actually far
superior to any other oil obtained from blubber rendering. It was used
primarily for lubricating machinery and making smokeless candles.

- Sperm whales also produce within their intestines, a greasy waxy
secretion found around squid beaks that is known as ambergris.  Found only
in sperm whales ambergris has a pleasant earthy smell such as when you tear
up moss to expose the soil below, or like a good cigar... to be a whaler
and find ambergris in a spermaceti whale was as if finding gold because
ambergris was worth more than gold in the 1930's. It's primary usage was as
a fixative in perfumes.

- A mature male or bull might have 500 gal of oil in their heads. The head
can be 1/4 of length and 1/3 of total weight.  3 whales have it - sperm,
pygmy sperm, bottlenosed whale. The function is probably used for buoyancy
control whereby descent /cools-solidifies spermaceti by filling nasal
passages with cool water - accent/expels water from nasal passages warming
spermaceti = lower density - or it could transmit and amplify the clicking
sounds. -

- How can whales dive so deep and so long? Sperm whales can dive to depths
of two miles which makes them the undisputed deep diving champions of the
mammalian world. This is due to myoglobin present in their blood, a protein
that retains ~oxygen more so than hemoglobin - in muscle tissue and control
and lower heart rate to under 10 beats a min - sending blood to vital
organs (brain etc.), expel 98% of air where we expel less than 20%, have a
flexible rig cage/lung collapses - don't get bends because gases from
collapsed lungs - nitrogen -enters rigid trachea - not absorbed into blood
- no bends - other gas bubbles are filtered by rete mirabilia ( wonderful
network of blood vessels) then to brain.  To learn about this incredible
adaptation we have developed a camera that attaches to the back of the
sperm whale with suction cups - we are trying to video a whale on a dive to
record feeding, duration of dives, depth, rate of accent and fluke dynamics
using a new tool called Whalecam -

Sperm whales make vocalizations called codas - these clicks and boinks and
in some cases stunning bangs are picked up by our hydrophones which are
directional and recorded using a digital recorder for frequencies lower
than 8000hz.  The range and time between clicks can actually tell us the
approx. size of whale, male or female (males have larger heads and
therefore have longer delays) and give us numbers in pop - 1 of the jobs is
to climb mast and dictate data about whales - Sperm whales use echolocation
sending waves of sound through the water of various frequencies of clicks,
bangs and wheezes. Feeding almost wholly on giant squid at great depths it
is believed they produce sonic booms that stun their prey with focused
bursts of sound and then gobble up their prey at leisure in total darkness.
The sonic boom from a baby calf has been reported to have knocked a diver
backwards underwater. Once they narrow the ultrasonic beam they can locate
their stunned prey by varying the frequency.  They have different steady
clicks for foraging, and slower socializing codas like morse code - 23
distinct codas recognized by Lindy Whitehead.  A bull coda sounds like a 2
wine bottles clashing - very loud - might attract females or intimidate
other males.  The noise is produced by a pair of lips that clap together
when air is blown through with force under blow holes - baleen whales don't
have this??

 A lot of this information is from a recent article (1996) in National
Geographic Magazine   Thank you, Kim Marshall