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July 17, 2017

Sri Lankan Sperm Whales

Written by Kylie Barton

The creatures of the nation’s we work in are without a doubt one of the biggest draws (as well as our impeccable individualised service of course!). In Sri Lanka, the Sperm Whale is certainly up there in the must-see animals.

These creatures made the news in recent months when a pod of Orcas clashed with a 100 whale strong sperm whale pod, and one lucky onlooker captured the moments on camera. The Indian Ocean is a popular location for whales of all shapes and sizes, and when travelling to Sri Lanka with Island Spirit you will certainly want to go and see these majestic mammals for yourselves.

Sri Lanka have many special marine conservation areas which means that wildlife can thrive. You need special licences to go diving in these areas, but the beautiful thing about sperm whales, and all whales in fact, is that you do not need to go beneath the surface to catch a glimpse. Sperm whales themselves however, are very adept divers. They have extremely muscular bodies which allow them to cut through the water to depths up to a mile. Their favourite food is squid (it actually makes up over 90 percent of their diet!), and so they can spend up to two hours down in the water hunting for their favoured meal.

Although quite common off the shores of Sri Lanka, the sperm whale is present in every ocean. It is the third most widely distributed mammal on earth after its cousin, the orca, and us. They can reach a length of 18 meters, and weigh a whopping 55 tons. So their ability to dive with dexterity is highly impressive.

Now I don’t know about you, but I had always wondered where the sperm whale gets its name! Apparently, it is because within the mouths of the whales you can see something that resembles semen. But in fact this oily substance actually has a completely different purpose – to provide volume to their calls. Thanks to this strange liquid, the sperm whale can produce the loudest sound of any animal, allowing pods to communicate over a distance of ten miles – handy if one gets lost! Like other whales they also communicate in a Morse-like code, which allows whale watchers to differentiate between species and pods within a single species. Very clever stuff.

The ‘sperm’ also serves another purpose – fertilisation. Not the kind you would think, but enriching the water to allow certain other crustaceans and plant life to thrive. In the hunting epidemic of the 20th century, the removal of their secretions from the waters lead to an unprecedented amount of environmental damage.

The Sri Lankan Sperm Whale watching eco tour - leaving early hours of the morning

Like all whales, the sperm whale likes to travel in large groups. In Sri Lanka it is common to see pods of over 100. Larger gatherings can be witnessed in Spring, which is mating season for them, as it is for many other species across the planet. The largest group witnessed was around 350. They are very clever, and very social animals. They flee in groups to answer a distress call if one is heard (and with that hearing they can travel quite a distance to do so). The loyalty for which these mammals are known is not unfounded, and they protect each other with astounding tactics such as defecating in the water to distract and cloud the attackers vision. Most whale distress calls are due to being attacked by another species of whale such as the orca.

These creatures really are one of the amazing perks of visiting Sri Lanka, we look forward to welcoming you on an Island Spirit journey there soon.

Check out our upcoming eco adventures and tours in Sri Lanka here.