Scientists operating a ROV in the Gulf of Mexico were in for a surprise this week when a curious sperm whale appeared in front of their cameras. The sperm whale spent several minutes circling the crew’s gear, allowing them to get close-up shots of the large marine mammal, including rake marks on its rostrum. The ROV Hercules is used by Dr. Robert Ballard’s Exploration team to study and map unexplored areas of the ocean while simultaneously sending live video, audio, and data to shore. This footage was shot as part of their six-month expedition to explore the Gulf of Mexico, Carribbean, Galapagos Islands, and the northeast Pacific.
Sperm whales are deep diving marine mammals and can be found in all oceans, although they are typically found in areas deeper than 1000 m. They primarily feed on squid at depth and live in highly structured family groups of up to 20 animals. Sperm whales were historically hunted for their prized spermaceti (oil) for fuel, which diminished their numbers significantly. They are currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and although the global population size is not known, it is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
Watch the rare footage below, captured at 589 m (1,962 feet).