E909 - Spermaceti

Spermaceti -from Greek sperma meaning "seed", and ceti, the genitive form of "whale"- is a waxy substance found in the head cavities of the sperm whale -and, in smaller quantities, in the oils of other whales-. Spermaceti is created in the spermaceti organ inside the whale's head. This organ may contain as much as 1‚900 litres -500 US gal- of spermaceti.Two theories for the spermaceti organ's biological function suggest it either controls buoyancy, or acts as a focusing apparatus for the whale's sense of echolocation. There has been concrete evidence to support both theories. The buoyancy theory holds that the sperm whale is capable of heating the spermaceti, lowering its density and thus allowing the whale to float; in order for the whale to sink again, it must take water into its blowhole which cools the spermaceti into a denser solid. This claim has been called into question by recent research which indicates a lack of biological structures to support this heat exchange, as well as the fact that the change in density is too small to be meaningful until the organ grows to huge size.The proportion of wax esters in the spermaceti organ increases with the age of the whale: 38–51% in calves, 58–87% in adult females, and 71–94% in adult males. Spermaceti wax is extracted from sperm oil by crystallisation at 6 °C -43 °F-, when treated by pressure and a chemical solution of caustic alkali. Spermaceti forms brilliant white crystals that are hard but oily to the touch, and are devoid of taste or smell, making it very useful as an ingredient in cosmetics, leatherworking, and lubricants. The substance was also used in making candles of a standard photometric value, in the dressing of fabrics, and as a pharmaceutical excipient, especially in cerates and ointments. Candlepower, a photometric unit defined in the United Kingdom Act of Parliament Metropolitan Gas Act 1860 and adopted at the International Electrotechnical Conference of 1883, was based on the light produced by a pure spermaceti candle. - Wikipedia

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