Illustrations by

© M.Würtz/


Physeter catodon /Physeter macrocephalus

Cachalot | Capodoglio | Sperm whale

The sperm whale is the only odontocetes belonging to the Physeteridae family in the Mediterranean. It is the largest predator in the world. It is considered a deep-diver, thanks to its apnea skills. In its huge head, in fact, there is one of the most powerful sonars of the animal kingdom, which allows it to hunt squids in the deep sea. The characteristic shape of the sperm whale, as well as the role it plays in Moby Dick (the famous book by Herman Melville) have allowed us to describe this animal as the archetype of the whale. It prefers areas close to submarine canyons.

Features: elongated body with a very reduced dorsal fin, squared and laterally compressed head that occupies 1/3 of the total length of the body. The skin is dark and wrinkled, usually grey-brown. It has 20-26 conical teeth on each side of the lower jaw, while the teeth of the upper jaw do not erupt. It has a very large caudal fin, which shows in a vertical position (fluking) at the beginning of the dive, in a distinctive behavior of this animal.

Puff: Roundish, up to 5 m high, inclined 45° to the left, due to the position and direction of the single nostril located in the anteroposterior left part of the head.

Maximum length : 12-18 m

Maximum weight: over 50 tons

Longevity: around 70yrs

Dive Time: on average 20-50 minutes; max ever recorded 138 min.

Dive Depth: 200 – 1200 m; max ever recorded 2000 m.

Maximum speed: about 30 km / h

Food Diet: squids caught at great depths in deep water ascents

IUCN Red List: VU (Vulnerable – Vulnerabile. Popolazione mondiale); EN (Endangered – in pericolo. Popolazione Mediterranea)

Threats: waste ingestion, maritime traffic and collisions, entrapment in networks