Whale Makes a Surprise Appearance

Read about a rare encounter that a team of explorers had with a massive male sperm whale.

An underwater vehicle being used by a team of explorers captured rare close-up footage of a sperm whale deep in the ocean.

Published May 1, 2015

Here's one male sperm whale that seems to love an audience.

The animal was spotted on the water's surface from the deck of the E.V. Nautilus—the research ship of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Robert Ballard—during a scientific expedition off the coast of Louisiana. Moments later, the same whale was nearly 2,000 feet (600 meters) under the Gulf of Mexico.

That's when the massive marine mammal was caught on video circling the ship’s remote operating vehicle (ROV), a small underwater vehicle connected to the ship deep in the ocean.

"It was probably one of the most amazing moments we've ever had on this ship," says Susan Poulton, a media consultant on the voyage. "The entire ship was jumping, cheering, and gathering around the monitors."

The Nautilus's ROV was investigating openings in the seafloor that release natural gas when the whale swam into view. What was it doing there? The toothed mammal may have been looking for prey such as squid and fish—male sperm whales have been known to dive as deep as 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) in search of prey, and gobble about one ton (907 kilograms) of the snacks a day.

We bet the ship's team is glad its equipment wasn't confused for a quick bite!

Text from "Rare Video Captures Sperm Whale in Deep Sea" by Brian Clark Howard, NGS Staff

Adapted by Rose Davidson, NGS Staff