The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus
Whales and whaling pictures

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Whales and whaling

The Sperm Whale. Physeter Macrocephalus, L.*  In 1712 Christopher Hussey, A Nantucket whaling captain blown off course in a small whaling ship managed to kill one of the whales of a nearby school of sperm whales. Sperm whales with their enormous "case" in the head full of oil were known from occasional strandings found on the beach, but this was the first time that one had been hunted and killed at sea.

Sperm whales were then hunted for their oil that made clean, bright and smokeless candles to be sold at a premium. Sperm whales were less hunted after the early 1900's as oil from ground deposits and natural gas began to take over from whale oil for candles. It was not until the 1950's however that other sources of oil were found or synthesized that could compare with the properties of the finest quality oil from sperm whales. Even today it still not really known why sperm whales have such huge quantities of this particular type of oil.

*The "L" on the picture caption stands for Linnaeus, Karl Linnaeus a Swedish scientist who in 1751 devised the scientific naming system for all living things that is in use today. The L. after a Latin name means that Linnaeus was the first to describe that particular species.

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Picture used courtesy NOAA