“Various processes are known to enhance the ocean’s ability to store carbon. Sperm whales increase the levels of primary production and carbon export to the deep ocean by depositing iron rich faeces into surface waters of the Southern Ocean.
The iron rich faeces causes phytoplankton to grow and take up more carbon from the atmosphere. When the phytoplankton dies, it sinks to the deep ocean and takes the atmospheric carbon with it. By reducing the abundance of sperm whales in the Southern Ocean, whaling has resulted in an extra 2 million tonnes of carbon remaining in the atmosphere each year. “
The Amazing World of Whales Revealed in Giants of the Deep
By Brandon Keim
Few animals capture our imaginations the way whales do. As fellow mammals, there’s something immediately recognizable about them — and yet, specialized as they are for deep ocean life, they’re magically foreign, too, like visitors from another world.
From now until January 2014, people can touch that world at the American Museum of Natural History’s Whales: Giants of the Deep exhibition. It features a 58-foot-long sperm whale skeleton, a life-sized blue whale heart, and a bounty of fossils and illustrations describing the extraordinary evolutionary journey of whales, which started with 45 million years ago with terrestrial history’s largest meat-eating mammal and led to the largest animals in history, period.
For people who can’t visit in person, exhibition curator John Flynn took Wired on a tour…
Sperm whales are fierce squid hunters, but they also have a softer side. In a serendipitous sighting in the North Atlantic, researchers have discovered a group of the cetaceans that seem to have taken in an adult bottlenose dolphin with a spinal malformation, at least temporarily. It may be that both species simply liked the social contact. Creatures form “friendly” connections with members of other species throughout the animal kingdom. These often short-lived relationships can offer increased protection from predators and more effective foraging.
behavioral ecologists Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin did not expect to find a mixed-species group when they set out to observe sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) some 15 to 20 kilometers off the island of Pico in the Azores in 2011. But when they got there, they found not only a group that included several whale calves, but also an adult male bottlenose dolphin ( Tursiops truncatus). Over the next 8 days, they observed the dolphin six more times while it nuzzled and rubbed members of the group...
The sperm whale, is the largest toothed predator on Earth. Males can be over 18m long, weighing up to 50,000kg.Mature female sperm whales tend to live in social groups of up to 15 mature females and their offspring, whereas mature males live alone or in smaller groups.The sperm whale is listed as vunerable to extinction by the IUCN. Commercial whaling was the biggest threat to this species.
Sperm whales have conical teeth on the lower half of their long, narrow jaw which fit perfectly into sockets on the upper half, where there are no teeth. This arrangement allows them to easily eat squid and other prey.
Sperm whales have one of the the lowest reproductive rates of mammals (2nd only to some populations of Orangutan)—they’re able to give birth to a single calf every four to six years at their reproductive peak—and the largest brain of any living creature on the planet. These highly social animals often raise their young communally.
Photography by Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures, fromAmong Giants
This is the skin of a sperm whale, speckled with sucker marks from a giant predator. Sperm whales with these marks provided early evidence that there was a giant squid that lived in the deep - known then as the kraken.
“This photo was taken during a lucky encounter with a member of the ‘group of 7’ pod. A very young calf measuring about 25 ft long came over and played with us for well over 45 minutes. The whale would swim right up to us, causing us to back away, then dive below us, spinning around while trying to rub against us. I suspect that part of its behavior was due to the exfoliation she was experiencing and possibly the presence of remora; she seemed to want us to rub her to help get the loose skin and remora off of her.”
Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History zoologist and giant squid expert, Dr. Clyde Roper, weighs in to debunk some common myths about the giant squid’s most famous predator, the sperm whale:
“Giant squid do not eat sperm whales. They eat small fishes, like orange roughy and hokie, and small squids. Quite the opposite…sperm whales eat giant squid, and many other species of midwater and deep sea squids, some quite small. The sucker rings of the largest giant squid are a maximum of 2” in diameter. Any scars on a whale larger than that are either old scars that have enlarged somewhat as the whale has grown.
The largest giant squid specimens ever recorded were 60 ft total length, back in the 19th Century. I have examined over 100 specimens in museums and on beaches all over the world, and the largest I have ever seen was in the 40-45 foot range. Please note that the two long feeding tentacles make up about 2/3 the total length of a giant squid.”
Smithsonian have just published a children’s book on the giant squid: “Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monster”, by Mary M. Cerullo and Clyde F. E. Roper, 2012. The book’s target audience is 10-14 years, but the whole age spectrum can learn something from it.
Sperm whales, Earth’s biggest-brained animals, live in far-flung clans with lifestyles so different and vocalizations so complex that it’s natural to think they have culture. But is that really true? Might sperm whales simply be following genetic instructions? Could their “culture” really be a set of instinctive, mechanical imperatives?
Researchers led by Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University and Luke Rendell of Scotland’s St. Andrews University, two of the world’s foremost sperm whale biologists, have asked just this question.
Their findings: Yes, sperm whale culture really is culture. And how.
“As far as we know, these are the largest cultures on Earth, aside from human ethnicities,” said Whitehead. “They may have thousands or tens of thousands of members, covering thousands of kilometers of ocean.”