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Sperm Whales of Hawaii

Due to their long dive times (30-45 minutes) and ability to travel long distances underwater, Sperm Whales are a rare sight and will only be seen as we cross the deep ocean channel on our Niihau boat tours. They tend to be shy and avoid the boats, but we have had groups of curious whales approach after we’d stopped to observe them.

The Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is the largest of all toothed whales and is the largest toothed animal alive, measuring up to 20.5 m (67 ft) long and weighing 57,000 kilograms (62 tons!). The whale was named after the milky-white waxy substance spermaceti found in its head by whalers and originally mistaken for sperm. The substance is, in fact, a form of liquid wax, and its versatility for human use nearly led to the animals’ being hunted to extinction. Spermaceti was the first of any animal or mineral oil to achieve commercial viability.


The Sperm Whale is exceptional for its very large head, particularly in males, which is typically one-third of the animals’ length. In contrast to the smooth skin of most other large whales, the skin on the back of the Sperm Whale is usually knobbly and has been likened to a prune by whale-watching enthusiasts. They are uniformly grey in color though may appear brownish in sunlight.

The blowhole is situated very close to the front of the head and shifted to the whale’s left. This gives rise to a distinctive bushy blow angled forward.


In 1820, a Sperm Whale estimated to be about 25.9 m (85 ft) long attacked a Nantucket whaling ship Essex. Only 8 out of the 20 sailors managed to survive. Holo Holo Charters does not hunt whales: you are safe on our tours.

Sperm Whales are prodigious feeders and eat around 3% of their body weight per day. (Humans and Sperm Whales are not competitors for food as humans are not generally interested in harvesting the deep-sea creatures that Sperm Whales eat).

Males continue to grow into their 30s and 40s and only reach their full size when about 50 years old. Sperm Whales live for up to 80 years.