Sperm whales can be found in all the oceans of the world; however, they appear less often in oceans with ice and do not prefer the colder waters near the Arctic and Antarctic. They are classified as cosmopolitan and usually travel in small family groups called social units. Adult males often spend large amounts of time traveling alone, separate from the social units of mothers and their calves.
Sperm whales prefer to live in equitorial areas of water around 2,000 feet deep, but they have also been seen in the Mediterranean Sea. It is questionable whether they frequent the Black or Red seas, probably due to the narrow, shallow entrances to these areas. Populations tend to inhabit the same warm water locations over time but move into and out of cooler areas seasonally.
Sperm whales seem to exhibit a preference for deep water. They are often found in areas with a depth of 2,000 to 3,000 feet. One of the sperm whale's favored food sources, the giant squid, lives in deep waters and may well be the reason the whales congregate where they do. Unlike the squid, sperm whales frequently travel from top to bottom of the deep water column since they are mammals and need to surface for a breath of air at regular intervals.
Although sperm whales can be found in many places, the females and calves prefer to remain near the equator in warmer waters. They often form small groups of 15 to 20 individuals. As the male calves mature, they begin to travel away from the equator to cooler areas. Experts disagree on the reason for so much travel, but some suspect the males may be following particular food sources. They return to the warm, equatorial areas for mating.
Sperm Whale Facts
The name of the sperm whale comes from a waxy substance called spermaceti located inside the whale's head, rather than anything dealing with reproduction. Their large heads take up to one third of their entire body length. It was this spermaceti -- which was burned in oil lamps and used for making candles, cosmetics and lubricants -- that made the sperm whale so attractive to the whaling industry of the 1800s. Adults can weigh from 35 to 45 tons and reach a length of 49 to 59 feet long.