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Sperm Whale (Cachalot) (Physeter macrocephalus)

Diputación de Málaga
Cachalote (Physeter macrocephalus)

Sperm Whale (Cachalot) (Physeter macrocephalus)

Reproduction Zeal Topping Hibernation
Animal Life > Mammals


It is grey or brown on the back, and it has pale grey flanks. Its appearance is unique due to the size and shape of its head which can be one third of its body. Inside of the head, there is a wide cavity called the spermaceti organ. The lower jaw, which is shorter than the upper one, has 50 conical teeth with larger diameter in the case of the male. The smaller dorsal fin, which is sometimes triangular, has several smaller crests in front up to the dorsal area with the caudal peduncle. This whale is a larger odontocetes (toothed whales, scientific name: Odontoceti), as it can be 18 m long and it weighs 70,000 kg. Generally speaking, males are larger than females.


They have a cosmopolitan distribution and can be found in all oceans. Larger males can be found at the poles, while females and immature whales live in warmer waters.

How They Live

This is one of the most abundant of the great cetaceans. They are excellent divers. They can mostly dive from 300 to 600 m, but some dives under 100 m have been registered as well. There is also some indirect proof that they can dive down to 3,200 m. They above all eat cephalopods, included some of the largest known species of octopus. Sometimes they also eat fish, which can occasionally be sharks.


The mating takes place in the middle of winter or summer in tropical or subtropical waters. Females give birth every four or six years and nurse at least for two years. Their gestation period is longer than a year. They usually give birth in spring. The young are round four metres long and weigh a ton. Females become mature very slowly and are not sexually active until they turn between seven and thirteen. This together with the long periods between each pregnancy, result in a slow growth of population.

Threats and Conservation Measures in Andalusia

This species is one of the most affected by underwater sonar. Actually, scientists agree that the use of sonar is the cause of the mass stranding of beaked whales all over the world. Avoid the use of the sonar in areas where this species is common is the best way to stop the sonar-associated stranding.

Places Where They Can Be Seen

This species is rare in this bay. It has no stable population. There are only individuals that come from the the Strait of Gibraltar. Several dead whales that belong to this species have been found in Málaga. One of them appeared on the coast of MIjas in good state. Also, a decomposing body was found on the beaches of Torrox. The part of its lower jaw was kept in the Aula del Mar Museum.


Firstly, this is not like a real whale. They have teeth but not baleen. In spite of its size and large body, it is not grouped with humpback whales or rorquals, but it belongs to odontocetes together with dolphins and killer whales. Up to the 1960s, there was a whaling ship in Algeciras, close to the beach in Getares, which used to capture them around the strait. There are two main products related to this kind of whales: Spermaceti oil and the grey amber. The former one is a kind of white oil which is produced in the head of the sperm whales inside of the spermaceti organ. Its function is to adjust the animal's buoyancy. This substance has been traditionally used to make candles in chemists, and fuel or lubricants, among other stuff.

As for the grey amber, this is a bile secretion, like wax, which is flammable and greyish. It has a peculiar smell, so it has been used for a long time for quality perfumes. We cannot forget that white sperm whale was an obsessive quest of Ahab in an everlasting novel Moby Dick.

Similar Species

This species cannot be confused with other species due to its size, shape of its head or the teeth.

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