Can A Sperm Whale Really Kill You With Sound?

By Antonia Čirjak on June 16 2020 in Did You Know

A Sperm Whale family.
A Sperm Whale family.
  • Sperm whales have the largest brain on Earth, weighing five times more than humans.
  • If the sperm whale tried to make the same click sound, but on land, and not underwater, it would measure at around 170 dB. Sound travels differently and achieves varying degrees of loudness in different mediums (air or water).
  • Sperm whales can live for more than 70 years.

There are plenty of fascinating things in the nature around us, and we are constantly amazed by the abilities of plants and animals. One of the phenomena that happen deep down in the oceans involves a sperm whale, and today we are investigating if it is possible that they can kill you with a single click!

Fear Of The Sound

Now, when you imagine a marine creature like a whale, your first thought must be that the sheer size of these mammals is already threatening enough. The sperm whale, for example, can grow over 20 meters in length, and weigh over 80 tons! You would stand no chance if these mammals decided to use any physical force against you. But, it is not the difference in weight, if you ever meet a sperm whale face to face (the chances are improbable, though, and do not worry unless you regularly dive 2000 m below the sea surface). It is the loudness factor that you need to fear. 

Sperm Whale Vs. A Jet Engine

Sperm whales are, when it comes to mammal species, the loudest one on planet Earth. How loud? Well, again, do not put yourself at risk to test these loudness levels, but imagine an engine of a jet plane. If you stand 100 feet as that jet engine starts roaring and screaming, you will be exposed to 140 dB of loudness. This is if you are not wearing ear protection, very dangerous, and it reaches a very unpleasant pain threshold.

If you stand 100 feet as that jet engine starts roaring and screaming, you will be exposed to 140 dB of loudness.
If you stand 100 feet as that jet engine starts roaring and screaming, you will be exposed to 140 dB of loudness.

If the loudness goes up by another 10 dB, or you decide to take a few steps toward 70,000 horsepower making furious take-off noise, your eardrums will burst. To put things into perspective, anything that is louder than 180 dB is considered life-threatening. Now, how terrifyingly loud is the sperm whale?

A sperm whale can produce a noise that is around 230 dB loud: well above all pain levels humans can handle, and definitely falls into the ‘’killer sound’’ category. The sound that a sperm whale makes is a way of communication with other members of the species. Many whale species, sperm whales included, use the so-called echolocation to interact with others when it comes time to mate, travel, or discuss resources. 

We Click @ 230 dB!

The noise a sperm whale produces can best be described as a click. As the air goes through their nasal canals, it is forced through two so-called ‘’monkey lips’’. As it travels further, it reaches the spermaceti organ, which is located on top of the sperm whale’s skull. Spermaceti is filled with wax, and it amplifies the sound as it bounces back off the whale’s skull back out. 

Now, there is some good news here. Remember, we said this was just a ‘’click’’ - that means that the duration of this sound is super short, under 0,5 s. That means that, while it is hazardous to hear a click like that and risk rupture of your eardrums, it is highly unlikely that you would actually die. Sperm whales mean no harm; they just have to signal someone that is possibly a few thousand miles away. Because that is how far that click can be heard. 

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