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Sperm Whales

( Originally Published 1936 )

Cachalot (Catadon macrocephalus)

The Sperm Whale, or Cachalot, as it is sometimes called, is a more southern form than the right whale, and differs from it considerably in shape. The huge head is cut off sharply at the muzzle, making it al-most square, and the lower jaw is very long and thin and armed with long rows of conical, or pointed, teeth. This lower jaw is said to hang down in the water while the animal is swimming, though the reason for carrying it in that position is not definitely known. See Plate 38, Fig. 160.

In the head of the Cachalot is found the substance known as spermaceti, a thick, dark, oily liquid when first exposed to the air, but becoming lighter and al-most wax-like in consistency after being subjected to a cooler temperature. Another curious substance sometimes found in the sperm whale is ambergris. Scientists were long puzzled as to its origin, but ambergris is now known to be a secretion from the stomach of this animal. The odour is strong and rather repulsive, but the substance is greatly in demand as a base for perfumes, and brings a high price in the market.

Unlike the whalebone whales, the Cachalot feeds on large fish and other marine animals, more especially on the huge cuttle-fishes, equalling, or perhaps far surpassing, the whales themselves in size, which probably crawl about among the rocks in the depths of the ocean, and never rise to the surface except by accident.

An interesting species of whale found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is the Baluga or White Whale, not often exceeding fifteen feet in length, and pure white or light cream in colour.

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