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Iconic White Sperm Whale Spotted Off Jamaica

sperm whale
A sperm whale pod. Credit: Gabriel Barathieu, CC BY-SA 2.0

A white sperm whale was spotted off the coast of Jamaica on Tuesday in an extremely rare sighting. Sperm whales are typically grey or black, and a white sperm whale is exceedingly rare to come across.

Hal Whitehead, who studies whales, told the Guardian: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fully white sperm whale. I have seen ones with quite a lot of white on them, usually in patches on and near the belly.”

Pure white whale sightings have been far and few between this century, with less than ten recorded. The last emergence of a white whale was off the coast of Sardinia in 2015.

The figure of the white whale has loomed large ever since Herman Melville’s classic 1851 novel, “Moby-Dick.” The novel’s protagonist Captain Ahab spirals into an obsessive quest to find Moby Dick after the whale rammed his whaling ship, resulting in the amputation of his leg.

The eponymous whale became an iconic symbol of the staggering, unknowable depths of the natural world and man’s undying quest for revenge and closure.

Sperm whales are large, complex mammals: they can grow to be over fifty feet long and have the largest brain of any animal. Sperm whales communicate between themselves using dialects of click sounds.

Entanglement in fishing nets and collisions with ships represent the greatest threats to the sperm whale population. Other threats include ingestion of marine debris, ocean noise, and chemical pollution.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) regards the sperm whale as being “vulnerable”. The species is listed as endangered on the United States Endangered Species Act.

Sperm whales spotted in the Ionian Sea

Stunning footage of a sperm whale family joyfully playing in Greece’s Ionian Sea was captured by the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute this past May.

The rare footage was released in an effort to raise public awareness of the need to protect these marine animals.

The action occurs when, after several hours of deep dives to feed, the sperm whale family reaches the surface. The mother, two calves and several juveniles playfully interact.

Arguments erupt, but the mother whale establishes order.

The Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute is a scientific non-profit organization aiming to study and conservation of cetaceans. Cetaceans include whales, dolphins, porpoises, and a few more related species.

Cetaceans have been an inspiration to people since ancient times, when they were found to appear as the main theme on numerous wall paintings, urns, coins, jewelry, and other objects. In fact, cetaceans have been part of Greek civilization for over 3,500 years.

The word “cetacean” comes from the Greek word “Ketos” which means sea monster. Ketos in ancient Greek mythology was an ancient goddess and the daughter of Gaia (the earth) and of Pontos (the wave). The word is now used to refer to dolphins and whales.

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