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Pygmy Sperm Whale

22 Apr Chief's Column, GIBP News, On The Beach | Comments Off on Pygmy Sperm Whale
Pygmy Sperm Whale
 

Living as close to the ocean as we do we become very familiar with the flora and fauna that we see regularly. Things people come a great distance to enjoy can become commonplace if we don’t consciously strive to renew our appreciation. For some this is means merely making the time to slow down, make time, and be present. For others it means a continual learning process as we encounter new creatures and experience variations in the coastal environment.

I was personally pretty blown away last week when we got a call that a whale beached itself on the rocks at 50th street. What turned out to be a Pygmy Sperm Whale that was around 8 feet long was alive when it arrived but, unfortunately, died shortly afterwards. We were able to tie a rope around its tail and pull it off of the rocks and drag it through the water to a beach with sand on it so it could be loaded up and disposed of in a more remote area of the beach. That wasn’t too out of the norm, as we deal with bottle nosed dolphins often. And a Cetacean beaching itself makes perfect sense. After all, what air breathing mammal wants to run the risk of drowning? But the wild thing was that it’s a really pretty rare occurrence to have a whale wash up at all and I’ve never seen a Pygmy Sperm Whale in person before.

I was really surprised to see its tiny little mouth on such a big head. One of the women that we were working with from the Marine Mammal Stranding Network told me that it feeds by suction! I thought about it all day, and that night combed the internet for more information. Turns out the mouth was only one weird thing about it.

I was in the Galapagos Islands once and saw crabs that live in trees and seagulls that have infrared vision and hunt at night. I know that the environment can cause all kinds of variation, but this little guy is pretty amazing even by Darwinian standards.

The Pygmy Sperm whale can dive for up to 45 minutes and uses echolocation to find its prey, which consists to a large degree of deep water squid. Sounds like it sucks the squid up into its little mouth like a scuba diving slurp gun. It also  can navigate by sensing magnetic fields, sort of like an inner compass.

But here’s the really cool thing. According to Wikipedia, “Pygmy sperm whales and dwarf sperm whales are unique among cetaceans in using a form of “ink” to evade predation in a manner similar to squid. Both species have a sac in the lower portion of their intestinal tract that contains up to 12 L of dark reddish brown fluid, which can be ejected to confuse or discourage potential predators”. So it uses the same technique its primary food source uses to avoid predators. In this case typically sharks or killer whales.