Physeter macrocephalus (sperm whale)

Physeter macrocephalus (sperm whale)

We’re starting off Cetacean Saturday with my all-time favorite: the sperm whale. I became fascinated by these creatures when I read “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick, which details the destruction of a whale ship from Nantucket by an enraged sperm whale (later inspiring Herman Melville’s infamous Moby Dick).

Sperm whales are astounding creatures of the sea. Their skull makes up 1/3 of their entire body, with much of their brain case filled with spermacetti, an oily fluid once mistaken by whalers for sperm (hence the name); scientists today are still unsure of this fluid’s purpose. These whales can dive to extreme depths (1000 meters) and can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes (say whaaaat?). They’re also bigger than the average school bus.

Sperm whales are listed as “vunerable” on the IUCN’s Red List, due to overhunting. However, their conservation is better than most other cetacean species, as hunting of these animals has completely stopped and they are a protected species around the globe. The biggest threat to these creatures is being caught in fishing nets, and colliding with ships (on top of humanity’s ever-increasing disturbance of the oceans via noise pollution, oil spills, and trash).

I think one of my favorite pop culture references to the sperm whale comes from John Hodgman’s Netflix special RAGNAROK. He starts discussing the sperm whale, and describes it as the only whale that actually LOOKS like a whale. It’s so true! Any kid can draw a sperm whale. You see a sperm whale outline on a plate or a piece of scrimshaw and immediately say, “oh, that’s a whale.” I can’t do his description justice, so I would recommend you go check it out.

This specimen in the photo is hanging at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. While I will go in today to find the specimen number, it should be known that there are 16 sperm whale specimens (not counting the dwarf and pygmy sperm whales) that can be found in the Museum of Comparative Zoology’s database. But hopefully I can find the record for this beauty today or tomorrow!

Sources:
Sperm Whales – National Geographic.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 2014. Web. 14 May 2014.

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No, this is not the long post I have been gathering research for and slowly writing for the past week. That post, on the effects of touch and learning in museums, should hopefully go up Sunday night. I had to get a few quotes from my sister, and make sure all my research was sound and made sense before I started compiling the post.

ANYWAY! I am thinking about changing up the format for this blog. A lot of what I do, both for work and for school, centers around a hefty amount of research, most of which I take on for my own enjoyment, and sometimes has nothing to do with museum studies, just with the stuff filling the museums I work at. And I really like this kind of research, because it leads to me being happy and learning something new. Plus, I realize I haven’t been very consistent with my posts, which is only harming me. I want this blog to showcase my abilities and be a forum for me to question and interpret the field and (hopefully) engage with other professionals in the comments (seriously guys please comment). So, with that, I think we’re going to do things a little differently.

Something I started doing off and on last month on Instagram was Cetacean Saturday. I’m thinking I might bring that here as well, but only once a month because we only have 5 whales at the natural history museum (though then there are two orcas in the Northwest Labs building…). Also, I do crazy amounts of research for the things I tweet about for the Waterworks Museum, and for the objects I document and accession. These posts won’t be very long, and they’ll more than likely be accompanied by at least one Hipstamatic photo. I realize this format might be better suited for Tumblr, but I a) have no patience for Tumblr these days, and b) cannot be bothered to reactivate another social media account.

So starting tomorrow, I’ll throw up a post for Cetacean Saturday, more than likely featuring a whale I’ve already covered on my Instagram account. We’ll see how that goes. Maybe I’ll push it beyond the skeletons we have at HMNH if people seem to enjoy it.

Yes, I’ll still be posting about current issues and topics in the field, but as many of you probably know, working full time sometimes means that sitting down at your computer to write a lengthy blog post sometimes isn’t the thing you want to do every day. Look for these meatier posts probably once or twice a month. You can expect shorter posts every week starting tomorrow (but don’t worry, your feed will not be flooded with posts).

What say you to that? 🙂

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