Dead Dolphin ashore May 2016

Dead Dolphin ashore May 2016

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Spermaceti Oil

This time of year things can be very quiet on the Thanet coastline which is probably a strange statement to make considering the diversity of  the 22 miles of  Thanet coastline.
So this time of year I tend to go back on old ground re examining old finds  including  following up unfinished research.
This week I have been going through everything  I have associated with the stranding of the Sperm Whale in Pegwell Bay Ramsgate in 2011. As followers of my blog may recall the stranding of the Sperm Whale was very much a public affair and the clear up operation did leave us with a bonanza of natural history "finds".
In the UK anything to do with endangered or protected species is heavily regulated especially when someone  decides to collect pieces of them. Therefore I had to apply for a licence from Natural England to possess items form the Whale. At the time I built up a collection of Sperm Whale bone fragments of which a gave a large chunk of the collection to the Monkton Natural History collection. I am now going through the process of donating the rest to the Natural History Museum at the Wingham Wildlife Park for scientific and educational purposes.

At the time of the stranding, the Sperm Whale was cut up on the the disused  hoverport slipway. Amongst the debris left over from the Whale were lumps of a white waxy substance that appeared on the strandline over a wide area. At first I thought it was Ambergris from the Whale but when picked up my body temperature in my hand started to turn the white waxy substance from solid to liquid , so that ruled out the Ambergris theory.
 I kept a sample  it in a sealed container and left it for well over a year. Over that period of time the sediment and impurities that had attached itself to my sample had settled to the bottom of the jar and I was able to dispense the top layers into a jar. It soon became clear that my sample was Spermaceti oil  because of the way it reacted to temperature change as it would start to solidify at the slightest drop in room temperature. When put in the fridge it would turn almost solid and at room temperature it became liquid again. This is something consistent with the oil in the spermaceti organ in the head of the Sperm Whale as these changes to the oil in the spermaceti organ gave the Whale buoyancy when diving at great depths diving for squid. The unfortunate thing is that  this Whale oil is one of the reasons why  commercial  explotation of the Sperm Whale  almost led to its extinction.
Due to international regulations this recent sample in the UK is unique and I have notified Natural England I have the sample and I am in the process of donating it to the Wingham Natural History Museum.
In the meanwhile I have the sample beside my computer and watching it act like a crude thermometer until the paperwork and licensing arrangements are sorted out.

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