Sperm whales or cachalots, are the largest toothed wales. Males can reach up to 62 feet (19 meters) – which is roughly 5 times the length of an elephant – while females can grow up to 39 feet (12 meters) in length.
The most famous of them all is Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s great white whale from the classic 1851 novel of the same name. But despite our familiarity with this weird looking, square-head creatures, a lot of people have wondered how did they get their name.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not named sperm whales because the shape of their body resembles male sex cells, but it was actually due to a misinterpretation. (the article continues after the ad)
The common name of the sperm whale originated at the beginning of the 19th century during the peak of the commercial whaling industry. The sperm whale’s head contains a huge fluid-filled organ called spermaceti organ. During whale harvests, this organ was discovered to contain a white semi-liquid, waxy substance that whalers mistook for the sperm, hence the name of the whale!
By the way, this spermaceti organ, which has a volume as large as 530 gallons (2,000 liters) and extends through 40% of the whale’s length, is unique to sperm whales. Whalers valued this fluid as it could be cooled into a wax and used in the production of wax candles, industrial lubricants, cosmetic creams, pomades and ointments.