A scientific expedition carrying out research in the Gulf of Mexico last Tuesday got a very big surprise (both literally and figuratively) when their robotic submarine captured rare footage of a typically reclusive sperm whale swimming laps around its cameras.
According to BBC News, the submarine was travelling approximately 600 meters (nearly 2,000 feet) below the surface when the curious creature got so close to its cameras that scars on its nose believed to be caused by a boat’s propeller were clearly visible in the footage.
An amazing encounter caught on videotape
The encounter took place off of the coast of Louisiana, where National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Robert Ballard and the crew of his research vessel, the E/V Nautilus, were conducting research. During the expedition, one member of the crew first spotted the whale on the surface.
“I walked out on deck just in time to see a spout and a tail breach…my first whale! And then, moments later, he was 2,000 feet down,” E/V Nautilus media consultant Susan Poulton said to National Geographic. At that point, the large male sperm whale was recorded circling the ship’s remote operating vehicle known as Hercules, the website noted.
“It was probably one of the most amazing moments we’ve ever had on this ship,” she added. “It happened in the middle of a lightning storm, with communication internally down, but the entire ship was jumping, cheering, and gathering around the monitors.”
Male sperm whales: solitary predators, vulnerable prey
Male sperm whales are among the fiercest predators in the seas, and while females and their young typically live in pods of up to 20, the adult males often lead solitary lives, according to Nat Geo. They consume nearly one ton of fish and squid per day and travel through large areas of ocean in search of more prey.
Sperm whales which can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes at a time, are hunted for an oily substance known as spermaceti. They are considered vulnerable by conservationists, the website added, and often become caught in fishing nets or injured in collisions with boats. At this point, the sperm whale population is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.