National Geographic : 1998 Jun
big predator to eat such big prey, and the sperm whale, the world's biggest toothed mammal, certainly qualifies. Males can grow to more than 60 feet, females to nearly 40. A male might weigh as much as 55 tons. Clyde's colleague Malcolm Clarke is as in trigued by the sperm whale as Clyde is by the giant squid. Malcolm's work began 45 years ago when he went to Antarctica as a whaling inspector, hoping to study the anatomy of sperm whales and what they eat. A New Zealand scientist, knowing Malcolm is here on the expedition, has sent him a pack age containing some of the stomach contents from a recently beached sperm whale. The odoriferous brown liquid is thick with beaks two pairs of uppers and lowers from giant squid, as well as some 3,000 beaks from other squid species. Malcolm and Clyde explain that a greasy substance coats the sharp beaks as they collect in a whale's digestive tract. Periodically the whale excretes the substance, and it washes ashore. This is ambergris, which perfumers add to fine perfume to retain its essence. A T CAPE FAREWELL, on a broad tidal flat about 140 miles north of Kaikoura, five sperm whales have mysteriously stranded. For no apparent reason they ven tured close to shore and kept moving along the shallows, even as the tide carried away the sea beneath them and left them to die. Expedition scientists decide to fly to Cape Farewell. Adam Frankel, a Cornell University specialist in whale acoustic behavior, wants to record the sounds of the dying whales with directional microphones. He hopes to find out how whales make and amplify sounds so pow erful they can be recorded miles away. Adam hesitates to put human words to whale sounds, but after talking to him I wonder if they are saying, "I'm here" or "I'm hungry" or "I'm frightened." At Cape Farewell, by one theory, a whale clicked a distress call perhaps something like "I'm frightened"-and the other four came to help. At dawn the next day, in a cold rain, I walk among the dead whales, feeling that unex pected sadness kindled by the untimely death of a stranger. The scientists are also saddened, but, like homicide detectives, they concentrate on reading the bodies for clues. They do not solve the mystery of the whales'