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Sperm Oil

Beverly Erlebacher bae at oci.utoronto.ca
Thu Dec 7 10:13:28 EST 1995

In article <Pine.SOL.3.91.951204102413.8514A-100000 at email1> mfidelib at imap2.asu.edu writes:
>"Sperm oil" = oil isolated from sperm whale blubber.
>On 4 Dec 1995, Marco Duretto and Peter Neish wrote:
>> I was reading in Mabberly's Dictionary of plants that Jojoba oil is used as a
>> substitue for sperm oil.  Can anyone tell me what sperm oil is?

Actually, it doesn't come from the blubber (subcutaneous fat) of the
sperm whale, but rather from a sort of 'oil tank' in the whale's head.
This fluid is called spermaceti ("whale sperm"), and its resemblance
to semen is what gives the sperm whale its name.  Early naturalists
probably spun tales about how this "sperm" got to the other end of the

Spermaceti has different physical properties than the fat in blubber.
The biological purpose of the 'oil tank' may be to adjust the density
of the whale's body.  Sperm whales are hunters that dive very deeply
unlike to plankton-eating baleen whales, so the 'oil tank' may be
involved in helping the animal cope with the great pressure at depth.

I don't have any cetological qualifications, just a good memory for
miscellaneous facts.

Beverly Erlebacher
Toronto, Ontario Canada

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