Sperm Whale Silver 1 OZ Proof Coin 2018
New Zealand Coins – During the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) were popular game for whalers. These giant carnivores could reach up to 18 metres in length and weigh as much as 55 tonnes. The spermaceti oil found in their immense heads, and a waxy substance known as ambergris found in their intestines, were highly prized, and considered worth the risk of hunting these at times aggressive whales.
In 1820, a whaling ship by the name of Essex, was sunk after being repeatedly rammed by a large male sperm whale. According to the first mate on the ship, this bull was nearly 30 metres in length and seemed to seek out the ship in an apparent fit of rage. It took a mere two blows from the giant whale’s head before the Essex started taking on water and capsized. It was this tale, combined with the tales of an albino whale known at the time to whalers as Mocha Dick, that were the inspiration for the well-known novel Moby Dick.
These days, sperm whales have a much more gentle reputation. Their rectangular bulk, brown to dark grey, somewhat wrinkled skin and easily recognised angled, bushy blows make identifying a sperm whale relatively easy.
Facts about the sperm whale
When early whalers cut open a sperm whale’s head, they mistook what we now call spermaceti oil as sperm. Hence how the whale got its name.
Sperm whales are expert divers, and live on a diet of squid, occasional fish and even certain types of sharks. They are able to dive deeper than 2 kilometres and hold their breath for up to an hour to hunt their prey. They tend to prefer deep water of more the 200 metres, something that the submarine canyons off the coast of Kaikoura provide.
All year round, there are numerous sperm whales present off Kaikoura’s coast, making it a popular destination for tourists.
Their only natural predators are orca (or killer whales) and large sharks. Pods of orcas will attack pods of sperm whales, trying to take a calf or female. A mature adult male is too big and so isn’t at risk of predation. If an attack occurs, a pod is known to cluster around the calves in a defensive formation. With whaling no longer a favoured industry and whales protected in New Zealand under the Marine Mammals Protection Act since 1978, the main risk from humans is now whales being injured by boat propellers or becoming entangled in fishing gear.