DEFINITION AND GENERAL DESCRIPTION
The Physeteridae (sperm whales), one of the six families of toothed whales(Suborder Odontoceti, Order Cetacea), includes the largest and in some ways themost specialised animals of the suborder. Odontocetes differ from the othercetacean suborder, Mysticeti (the baleen whales, distinguished by their highlyspecialised filter-feeding apparatus), by the presence of teeth in both upper andlower jaws or the lower jaw only. Physeterids possess a characteristic spermacetiorgan and functional teeth only in an underslung lower jaw.
HISTORY OF DISCOVERY
The family contains only two genera:
Linnaeus.Kogia includes two species, the Pygmy Sperm Whale (
) (Blainville1838) and the Dwarf Sperm Whale (
) (Owen 1866). Physeter ismonotypic, containing only the Sperm Whale (
Considerable controversy has occurred over the sperm whale’s specific name.Recent authors, including Honacki, Kinman & Koeppl (1982) following Husson& Holthuis (1974), have favoured Physeter macrocephalus. Schevill (1986b),however, came down firmly on the side of
, the name by whichthe species was known for much of this century until 1974.That there are two species of
was confirmed by Handley (1966). Mostprevious authors had considered only a single genus and species, although up toseven specific names occur in the literature. Handley confirmed that thereshould be only
, based particularly on differencesin dental formula, the relative length of the mandibular symphysis and otherskull features; the Dwarf Sperm Whale is also a much smaller animal than thePygmy Sperm Whale.
MORPHOLOGY AND PHYSIOLOGY
The Sperm Whale with its massive head, blunt snout, underslung jaw, no truedorsal fin, short flippers and very large triangular flukes (Fig. 49.1), is quiteunmistakable. It is also the largest odontocete, males reaching at least 15 m andpossibly more than 18 m in length, and females up to 12 m. A thickened patch of skin on the anterior part of the dorsal hump in adult females seems to be asecondary sexual character.Among many peculiarities, the structure of the huge head, about a third of thebody length of the adult male, is quite remarkable (Figs 49.2 & 49.3). Theasymmetrical skull lacks the left nasal bone and rises behind into a massivecrest, moulded into a basin holding the spermaceti organ. The single blowhole
Side view of the Sperm Whale,
(©G.J.B. Ross)[G.J.B. Ross]