Online Encyclopedia

SPERMACETI (from Lat. sperma, seed, a...

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 644 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
SPERMACETI (from Lat. sperma, seed, and cetus, a ' whale), a wax found in the head cavities and blubber of the sperm-whale (Physeter macrocephalus), where it is dissolved in the sperm oil while the creature is living; it also occurs in other Cetacea (see WHALE OILS). At a temperature of about 6° C. the solid matter separates in a crystalline condition, and when purified by pressure and treatment with weak solution of caustic alkali it forms brilliant white crystalline scales or plates, hard, but unctuous to the touch, and destitute of taste or smell. It is quite in-soluble in water, very slightly affected by boiling alcohol, but easily dissolved in ether, chloroform, and carbon bisulphide. Spermaceti consists principally of cetin or cetyl palmita,te, C,5H31CO2Cr6H33. The substance is used in making candles of standard photometric value, in the dressing of fabrics, and in medicine and surgery, especially in cerates, bougies, ointments, and in cosmetic preparations. SPERM-WHALE, or CACHALOT (Physeter macrocephalus), the largest representative of the toothed whales, its length and bulk being about equal to, or somewhat exceeding those of the Arctic right-whale, from which, however, it is very differenthas on each side from twenty to twenty-five stout conical teeth, which' furnish ivory of good quality, though not in sufficient bulk for most of the purposes for which that article is required. The upper teeth are rudimentary and buried in the gum. The flipper is short, broad, and truncated, and the dorsal fin a mere low protuberance. The general colour of the surface is black above and grey below, the colours gradually shading into each other. The sperm-whale is one of the most widely distributed of animals, being met with, usually in herds or schools," in almost all tropical and subtropical seas, and occasionally visiting the northern seas, a number having been killed around the Shetlands a few years ago. The food of sperm-whales consists mainly of squid and cuttlefish, but also comprises fish of consider-able size. The substance called " ambergris," formerly used in medicine and now in perfumery, is a concretion formed in the intestine of this whale, and found floating on the surface of the sea. Its genuineness is proved by the presence of the horny beaks of the cuttles on which the whale feeds. The one representative of the genus Cogia is called the lesser or pigmy sperm-whale, being only from 9 ft. to 13 ft. long.
End of Article: SPERMACETI (from Lat. sperma, seed, and cetus, a ' whale)
[back]
COUNT MIKHAIL MIKHAILOVICH SPERANSKI (1772-1839)
[next]
SPES

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.