Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Physeter macrocephalus Linnaeus, 1758

Catalog Data

North Atlantic Ocean, North Sea  Search this
Fanö, Denmark, Europe, North Atlantic Ocean
Collection Date:
Apr 1990
Smeenk, C. (1997). "Strandings of sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus in the North Sea: history and patterns." Bulletin de L'institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, Biologie 67(Suppl.): 15-28. Abstract - Strandings of sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus L., 1758 in the countries bordering the North Sea have been documented since the end of the 16th century. All known strandings in this area are summarized. There is no clear temporal pattern in the occurrence of sperm whales in the North Sea except that there are very few strandings between the late 18th and early 20th century. All sperm whales of which details are known have been males, ranging from about 12 to 18 m in size. Most strandings occur during the period November-February. It seems likely that the majority of sperm whales enter the North Sea during their southward migration. If the animals do not find their way out in time, they become weakened and many will die at sea or become stranded. The North Sea can be described as a sperm whale trap, and multiple strandings mainly occur in the southern part of the area, where the coastal configuration is characterized by vast expanses of sandbanks, mudflats and estuaries. The large gap in the occurrence of sperm whales in the North Sea from the late 18th till the early 20th century may be connected with whaling activities over the last centuries, by which sperm whale numbers in the North Atlantic were considerably reduced. Sperm whales have been increasing again in the North Sea, particularly since the 1970s and, again, the 1990s, possibly as a response to a population increase following the decline and the end ·of whaling in this area.
Tougaard 1991
Record Last Modified:
20 May 2024
Specimen Count:
Animalia, Chordata, Vertebrata, Mammalia, Eutheria, Cetacea, Odontoceti, Physeteridae
Published Name:
Physeter macrocephalus Linnaeus, 1758
Physeter catodon Linnaeus, 1758
Other Numbers:
Whale Field Number 1 : No number
USNM Number:
See more items in:
Vertebrate Zoology
Data Source:
NMNH - Vertebrate Zoology - Mammals Division