The sperm whale was immortalized by Herman Melville in his novel Moby-Dick. Heavily hunted for their oil during Melvilles time, the sperm whale population today ranges somewhere between 360,000 to 1 million. These giants have a voracious appetite for squid. According to one estimate, worldwide sperm whale predation on squid may exceed 100 million metric tons a yearroughly equivalent to the entire annual harvest of all the commercial fisheries on Earth.
Humans also are big consumers of squid, including jumbo squid, now the target of a thriving commercial fishery in Baja California. "Even though this species is found only in the eastern Pacific, it reaches from Alaska to Chile and supports the largest cephalopod fishery in the world," said Gilly, an authority on squid who is based at Stanfords Hopkins Marine Station.
"Its very rare to find a place like the Gulf of California where you can actually see sperm whales together with their prey," added Davis, an expert on marine mammal behavior. "I cant think of another place in the world where this would be possible."
Despite the vital role that jumbo squid and sperm whales play in oceanic ecosystems and fisheries, many aspects of their lifestyleincluding feeding and huntingare as mysterious today as they were when Melville made the following observation in Moby-Dick: "For though other species of whales find their food above water, and may be seen by man in the act of feeding, the spermaceti whale obtains his whole food in unknown zones below the surface; and only by inference is it that any one can tell of what, precisely, that food consists."
The sperm whale remains a challenging research subject for scientists today, Davis noted. "Adult sperm whales can stay underwater for more than an hour, but nobody knows exactly
Contact: Mark Shwartz