The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is one of my hands-down favorite animals and yes, I know I’ve said that before about other species, but there’s only three animals tattooed on my arm and one of them is the sperm whale. The other is the giant squid (Architeuthis dux) and as you can expect, they’re locked in combat, a small shark lurks in the background. Like many people, the epic battles between sperm whale and giant squid have long captivated me, as awe inspiring as the clash of titans that must have occurred among non-avian dinosaurs millions of years ago. Unlike with the non-avian dinosaurs though, I can stare out at the ocean knowing that somewhere out there these unimaginable giants still lurk, and on occasion, meet. We know sperm whales predate on the giant squid, and although it’s probably far less often and dramatic than what pop culture likes to depict, the fact that it happens at all and no one has ever seen it firsthand is part of what makes these leviathans so captivating, and the ocean itself so romantic and mysterious.
There’s a lot to admire about the sperm whale aside from their awesome predatory power. They are the world’s largest toothed whale, and the largest toothed predator on the planet. Although they share the Physeteridae family with two other species (the dwarf and pygmy sperm whales) there is nothing alive today quite like the sperm whale, the only member of its genus. They possess the largest brain of any animal and like most cetaceans they have complex and fascinating social lives. The clicks of sperm whales, used in hunting, are the most powerful sounds in the animal kingdom (230 decibels), capable of killing a human being even if it has never happened. Sperm whales are also some of the deepest diving mammals, capable of reaching depths of 7,382’ (2,250 meters).
Aside from the sperm whale’s natural history there is also their historical relationship with humans that is compelling, albeit tragic on the whale’s part. Although I abhor modern whaling I can’t help but be fascinated by American whaling of the 17th century, to which the sperm whale was an integral part of. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was after all, about a sperm whale. I could gush and ramble off facts about sperm whales all day but we’re here for a toy review and I suppose we should get on with it. Entire books have been written about the sperm whale and if your interest in them extends past this toy I would highly recommend The Great Sperm Whale by Richard Ellis.
In the important task of picking a sperm whale for my own collection I decided to be a bit brave and go with Papo’s 2018 offering. I say brave because there is an embarrassment of excellent sperm whale toys to choose from and my experience with Papo’s extant animals is quite limited. I bought it online without having ever seen it in person and although the promotional pictures made it look appealing, those can often be misleading. So now that I have it, what do I think? Well let’s take a look.
From the snout to the notch in the fluke the Papo sperm whale measures 10.5” (26.6 cm). Adult male sperm whales measure about 60’ (18.3 meters) and if we scale the toy down from that length than that puts the figure at 1/68 in scale. Sperm whales are some of the most sexually dimorphic of all cetaceans, with males being 30-50% larger than females. Scaled down from a female maximum length of 39’ (12 meters) the figure is 1/44 in scale. Male sperm whales have a proportionally larger head than females and because of that I’m inclined to think that the Papo sperm whale represents a male but there is no genital slit sculpted on the toy.
Starting at the enormous rectangular head we can see that the blowhole, shaped somewhat like a comma, is properly sculpted on the forward left side of the head. On the underside we have a narrow, underslung jaw. On this figure the jaw is articulated and although that makes the toy more dynamic the seams around the lower jaw are painfully obvious and my biggest complaint about the toy. Although I haven’t tested the limits of its durability, I have to assume the jaw is also prone to breakage in the hands of a child.
The area around the upper portion of the mouth is painted white and the lower jaw is black. The teeth are beautifully and meticulously sculpted. Within the mouth, on the toothless upper jaw, there are slots for the lower teeth to fit in and when closed the jaw stays closed tightly. The painting on the teeth isn’t sloppy but the teeth aren’t entirely painted either, with most of the paint being confined to just the tips. Although the articulation itself is ugly the figure wins points for the overall jaw sculpt and when on display the seams around the jaw aren’t too noticeable anyway.
Small brown eyes are present just forward and slightly above the pectoral fins. The eyes are cleanly painted and lifelike with some wrinkling present around them. The pectoral fins are appropriately rounded with the phalanges visible under the skin. The robust body is wrinkled and prune-like and the dorsal fin is small and rounded, followed by three small humps which can vary in number among individual sperm whales. The base of the tail is laterally compressed but deep and robust, and the tail itself has triangular shaped flukes with a deep notch between them.
The Papo sperm whale is uniformly black in color but sperm whales can also be gray or brown. Along with some white coloration on the upper jaw there is also a white patch on the underside. The figure is posed with the head slightly lifted, the body curving rightward, and the tail curving towards the left. Aside from the seams around the jaw there’s nothing really here to take serious issue with. The paintjob is cleanly applied, and the anatomy accurately depicted, minus the genital slit.
I suppose a bit of scaring would have been appreciated around the head, because sperm whales are seldom so pristine looking, but that’s another minor complaint. Overall, the Papo sperm whale is a worthy addition to your cetacean collection, and one of the better recent sperm whales made available. This figure is still in production and can be bought for about $20 USD.