A team of ocean scientists had the experience of a lifetime when a magnificent 11-metre-long sperm whale came up close while they were working 598 metres (1,962 ft) beneath the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. When the creature first appeared one of the crewmen said “What the heck is that?!”
The crew of the Exploration Vessel Nautilus was on a routine mission measuring natural methane and hydrocarbon plumes in the sea when the massive creature approached them.
The whale circled the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Hercules several times and gave the crew’s cameras a chance to capture some breathtaking footage of the beautiful creature.
The crew believe it was a juvenile male, probably a teenager. (Image: Nautilus Live)
“Encounters between sperm whales and ROV’s are very rare,” they said.
The video footage, which has gone viral on Youtube (below) and several social media websites, has already clocked up more than 1.5 million views. It shows the world’s largest toothed predator swimming around Hercules, coming up very close to the equipment and circling it several times.
Sperm whales are clearly not clumsy creatures. Despite its colossal size, it managed to come very close without touching any of the equipment.
Sperm whales have an excellent sense of hearing. The scientists believe it was attracted by the tiny sounds made by the equipment.
The crew responded online to series of questions:
Was it male or female? They believe, after examining the video, that it was a male. However, given that the video of the underside was grainy, they cannot be 100% sure.
How big/old was it? The scientists said, given that Hercules is six feet wide in the front, and using that as a guide, and how close the creature was to the vehicle, they estimate it was between 35 and 40 feet (10.6 to 12.1 metres) long.
After consulting biologists, the team believes the animal was probably a juvenile, especially if it was male.
The sperm whale circled several times, very close to the ROV, but managed not to bump into anything. (Image: Nautilus Live)
How come it did not knock into the ROV? Despite their torpedo shaped body, sperm whales are surprisingly dexterous creatures. In Alaska, for example, they have learned to remove fish from long-line fishing nets with their mouths without getting tangled up.
What might have caused the scarring on it? Scarring could have been caused by several things, such as squid tentacles and suckers, especially the scars around the face and mouth. The scientists doubt they were caused by propellers (a comment on the video suggests this).
Sperm whales often jaw each other when socializing or playing, so they might have been caused by other whales.
Was it alone? In sperm whale society, generations of females live together for life. Males will leave their families in their early teens and live mostly alone as adults. If it was a female or juvenile male, there would have been others nearby.
Video – Rare Sperm Whale ROV Encounter