Dude, Where's My Cod?

by Jennifer Frazer on June 6, 2009

Anyone who’s spent time fishing can tell you that every so often, after patiently waiting hours for a bite, one will reel in one’s line to discover that somehow, someone has pilfered the bait. Apparently Alaska black cod fishermen have a problem along the same lines(so to speak), although in this case it was the catch that was purloined, and not the lure.

So someone rigged up a camera to capture the thief in flagrante. Take a look at this video that came across the National Geographic newswire a few weeks ago:

Wait for it . . .

No, that is not a sawblade attached to an oven mitt. That, mateys, is a sperm whale. And not just any sperm whale. A sperm whale that has learned to rob lures of bait without hurting itself or using fingers, fins or tail. Pretty slick!

Sperm whales are the largest toothed predators on Earth. They dive deep in search of squid and fish, and judging from the sucker scars sometimes found on their skin . . .


. . . they really do get in battles with colossal squid deep underwater. Their heads contain a massive organ filled with a waxy substance called spermaceti. In the 19th century, this, along with oil from the whale’s blubber, was prized for making candles as affordable as tallow but far less smoky, lamp oil, soap, cosmetics, crayons, and a number of other products. The spermaceti’s actual purpose may be buoyancy control (the whale hardening it to dive and liquefying it to rise), echolocation, or both.

Since these whales aren’t afraid of defending themselves by using their head as a battering ram, a few actually did manage to sink some whaling ships in the Pacific, including the Essex in 1820, which inspired Melville to write Moby Dick, and the Ann Alexander in 1851, which was attacked (after, it should be said, first attacking the whales) about the same time that Moby Dick was published, and probably helped to market the book.

What is really extraordinary, when you think about it, is that these behemoths evolved from a small furry, doglike creature that existed 55 million years ago.

Pakicetus, an ancestor of all modern whales.

An artist's reconstruction of Pakicetus, an ancestor of modern whales. This image by Arthur Weasley is distributed under a Creative Commons-attribution license. Click image for link.

What an amazing world we live in!

In any case, so long as you’re not shooting harpoons at them or swimming around looking tasty at 6,000 feet, sperm whales are probably mostly harmless. Here is a film of a sperm whale calf (who doesn’t seem to have teethed yet) to give you a closer look.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Reed E June 8, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Another early cetacean, the mammalian crocodile Ambulocetus of the Eocene, proves to be the most adorable creature to ever occupy that niche: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ambulocetus_BW.jpg

Jennifer Frazer June 8, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Yes, it definitely looks capable of a “death snuggle”. I bet it would look even cuter in beanie form. . . Ty should definitely look into this.

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