The sperm whale got its name from, well…. What do you think we are about to say? If you are thinking we were about to say the fluid that the male of all species ejaculates during sex, you were right! The sperm whale got its name from sperm. Of all things that you could be named after, why semen?
When devising names there’s always some degree of uncertainty involved. Even naming your child can be a difficult task, and it will usually involve compromise to some extent. Sometimes there can be comical reasons behind the name, as with the naming of the town and island of Dildo in Canada. Other situations can result from a change in language, which is what happened to the mineral called cummingtonite. While we’re on the subject of odd names, let’s not forget Buffalo Hump’s real name. The poor guy. The sperm whale got its name from a misunderstanding.
How the sperm whale got its name
If you are fortunate enough to see a sperm whale in the wild they are easily recognizable. They have a large head with a prominent and round forehead. Inside this massive head lies the largest brain on Earth, and an odd substance that is rather waxy by nature. This is the substance that confused whalers who chose the name for the mammal of the deep.
The substance found in the head of the sperm whale is called spermaceti. It’s a wax like liquid that is said to smell like raw milk, and when cold it will turn to a solid. Even to this day scientists are uncertain of its function. Some have theorized that it aids the whale in its buoyancy, but with no proof to support the theory, it remains just that, a theory.
At one point in history whalers thought that this substance was whale sperm. It seems completely ignorant now, but at least one species of marine animal has testicles in its head, the octopus. So the early whalers ignorance of the reproductive system of whales shouldn’t be used against them.