In the centre of the exhibition, suspended from the ceiling is the skeleton of a 17.4 metre Sperm Whale. Its long jaw has a rounded, beak shaped top section while the base is flat. It has a square-shaped head closely connected to the shoulder girdle from which five-digit fins protrude.
The head and ribcage section of this whale comprise one quarter of its length. The spine begins behind the skull with its 42 vertebrae forming a gentle undulation, their size increasing towards the centre of the peak then becoming much smaller as they reach the tail end. The mid-section of the spine has Y shaped bones extending down decreasing in size towards the tail’s end. The final section of the now oval tail tapers to size of a human’s fist.
When this enormous Sperm Whale skeleton was first displayed in 1883, it was the largest Sperm Whale exhibited worldwide.
This male was beached at Tom Thumb Lagoon at Port Kembla on the 13th November 1871. The Museum taxidermist J. A Thorpe and two assistants spent a week preparing its body on the beach before transporting its bones via steam boat to Sydney. Back at the Australian Museum, the skeleton was assembled in a specially constructed shed. In 1910, it was later suspended in its current position and is likely to stay there - because moving it is truly a 'whale of a task'.
The Sperm Whale is an extraordinary species. Measuring up to 18.3 metres in length, it's the largest of the odontocetes or toothed whales. It also has the largest brain on Earth, and is capable of one of the longest, deepest dives of any animal, reaching depths of over 3200 metres.
The Sperm Whale also has the most extensive distribution of any mammal, found from the equator to the edges of the polar ice packs. Sperm Whales are a keystone species and are an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. They play a significant role in fertilising phytoplankton which produces more than half of the world's oxygen. Although whaling was banned in 1988, they remain vulnerable to boat strikes, entanglement in fishing gear and pollution.