#LoveSpecies nominee: sperm whale
Nominated by: Ocean Alliance
Why do you love it?
Sperm whales might not be as beautiful as some of their cousins, but they are enormously charismatic animals of immense power and grace, grafted into our legends and folklore through stories such as Moby Dick. When a sperm whales dives, it is descending to the deep, dark depths of our oceans: an alien world at the boundaries of human understanding. They are true Olympians of the natural world: the largest toothed predator to have ever existed on our planet, the largest brain of any animal ever and currently the loudest animal alive. We know of only one species which can dive as deep, for as long a period of time. Through their role in ocean food webs, we also know that sperm whales actually slow climate change!
What are the threats to sperm whales?
Whales in our oceans today face more threats than ever before. One of the biggest problems with studying sperm whales is that they live far out in the open ocean, far from land, and so it is almost impossible to tell exactly how their population is faring. Sperm whales face a particular risk from chemical pollution owing to the dual effects of bio-accumulation and bio-magnification. Most mammals, including humans and sperm whales, find it difficult to get rid of toxicants which enter their bodies, and over time these toxicants accumulate, a process known as bio-accumulation. Bio-magnification is a term which describes how doses of toxicants increase significantly each step up a food chain. As long-lived apex predators, sperm whales thus face a particular risk from these two processes.
As animals reliant on sound for finding food and communicating with other sperm whales, the impacts of an increasingly noisy ocean (owing to increases in human-caused sounds such as shipping, military sonar and seismic exploration) are to likely cause significant stress for sperm whales. Other threats include climate change, bycatch in fishing lines/nets and ship strikes.
What are you doing to save it?
Ocean Alliance has been working to protect whales and their ocean environment since 1971. After commercial whaling ended, our founder and president, Dr. Roger Payne, predicted that chemical pollution would replace the whalers harpoon as the greatest threat to whales. In response to this, from 2000-2005 Ocean Alliance carried out the Voyage of the Odyssey, a 5 ½ year research expedition which collected the first ever baseline data on pollution in our oceans from every major ocean basin using a single indicator species: sperm whales.
More recently, our efforts have switched to using drones to study whales. We believe that rapid recent advances in drone technology will create a new generation of powerful, cost-effective, non-invasive tools that will allow us to increase our understanding of whales, and how we might protect them, at a time when they need this desperately.