August 24, 2019 Dyer Island Conservation Trust
In what was one of the best-attended marine evenings, with local and international guests, speaker and marine biologist Miranda van der Linde, blew everyone away with her talk on the Social Network of Sperm Whales. Miranda has been studying sperm whales in the Azores archipelago for 9 years and is a guest guide with Dyer Island Cruises for the upcoming southern right whale season.
Sperm whales – ocean “socialites”
Research on these mysterious whales has revealed that they are among the most social animals on the planet and exhibit culture, very much like people. This culture, or traditions, is passed on through social learning from one generation to the next, and it varies across the globe. The Azores are a meeting ground and Miranda has identified 13 groups, some that do not interact much and others who are very social and have preferences for other families. Similar to people, some have long term friendships and some are more ‘extroverted’ than others.
Sperm whale males are around 18m in length, weighing an estimated 57 tons and females about 12m and 20 tons. The calves are born at 4m and weigh 1 ton needing some assistance at birth to be helped to the surface to breathe, which is why they have long term bonds as the females assist with babysitting and breastfeeding other calves not just their own. The adult males do not remain with the large groups of females and babies and mostly connect with the females for mating purposes. Sperm whales have only one blowhole on the left-hand side of the head so their blow is slanted, very different to our southern right double V blow.
Sperm whale diet consists of giant squid and octopus. Their deep diving skills are renowned and they can even remain underwater for up to two hours slowing their heartbeat to one beat a minute. Guests heard a recording of their clicking sounds when hunting and when socialising.
Miranda heads to New Zealand in November where she will continue her career with wildlife.
Find Miranda’s scientific publication here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mms.12617
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