Sperm Whale


  • Sperm Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Sperm Whale

The presence of sperm whales is occasional in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and St. Lawrence Estuary.

The sperm whales that frequent the St. Lawrence belong to the North Atlantic population.

The oceanographic conditions of the St. Lawrence (cold, shallow water) suggest that these records are likely young bulls that separate from their pods as they approach sexual maturity. They are thought to be seeking new feeding grounds, i.e. large areas rich in food resources, while at the same time avoiding competition with older males.

The sperm whale is found in deep, ice-free waters of all the planet’s oceans and seas, including the Mediterranean.

The sperm whale does not appear in the List of threatened or vulnerable species in Quebec.

This species is listed as “not as risk” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s” (IUCN) List has listed the species as “vulnerable”.

The sperm whale spends the better part of its time searching for food in deep waters.

Its main prey consists of squid.

The sperm whale has a varied diet including also pelagic fish, bottom-dwelling fish and crustaceans.

Illustrated species: (from high to low, from left to right): giant squid, squid, herring.

The average age of weaning is 2 years, but calves begin to eat solid foods even before they are 1 year old.

Depending on their age and sex, sperm whales live alone, in pairs or in groups.

Their social life is complex and is organized into family units

Sperm whales emit a wide array of sounds (clicks, pulsing sounds, squeals) in deep water and at the surface.

They are used for communication as well as echolocation to detect prey and elements of the environment.

Each pod is thought to have its own characteristic dialect.

Although a slow swimmer on average, it is capable of strong bursts of speed when hunted or chased.

It can also remain in a stationary position.

Its tail slowly rise high in the air before diving.

Photo credit: GREMM

Diving and surfacing are vertical.

Sperm whales often surface at about the same spot.

On average, its dives last about 1 hour, but can reach 90 minutes or even 2 hours, and attain depths of 1000 to 2000 m.

Photo credit: Jean Lemire

The relative abundance of the global population should not overshadow the modest renewal rate of this species, with hunting in particular having reduced the number of males. Boat collisions, noise and chemical pollution, bycatch in fishing gear and climate change are all threats to this species.

Research projects are conducted by means of carcass examinations, acoustic studies, telemetric monitoring and biopsies with genetic analysis. Using photo-identification based on shape, colour pattern, and tail marks and scars, researchers carry out long-term monitoring of individuals. In the St. Lawrence, the GREMM maintains a catalogue comprising some thirty individuals.