The Marguerite (Flower) Formation
The call to meet has been tapped out. A series of strident clicks shimmies through the water at 4.3 times the speed of sound through air. Sperm whales communicate with modulated bursts of static like clicks much like marine echo sounders.
New purpose infuses grey-brown bodies as they plough the surface chop. The pace intensifies as the whales converge. Suddenly they are all gone, not a trace remaining. Then a cluster of blunt rounded heads emerges, merely the tip of the iceberg as all the action is below.
When Megafauna Meet
The view from below is simply stunning. Watching these ocean giants rub, roll and push against each other is a truly remarkable underwater spectacle. Skeins of skin slough away littering the water. Spirals of turbulent white water trail pulsing flukes. This particular marguerite lasted 17 minutes and seemed to have no particular purpose other than a social get together, a bit of nice body rubbing and an occasional gentle mouthing.
The Ultimate Defense
The margeurite formation is the sperm whale's ultimate defensive weapon. Their only serious predators are orcas (killer whales) which hunt in the same manner as wolf packs.
The phalanx of outward facing fluke forms a formidable defensive perimeter. This skilled social defense mechanism has maintained the sperm whale's status as the ocean's apex predator over the millennium.
Weak, wounded or young whales and whales giving birth can be protected by the pod. Orcas, sharks and other would be predators just can't penetrate the perimeter of pulsing flukes and their potentially crushing blows.
The marguerite formation also presents problems for photographers. To get good images it is necessary to get close and use a wide angle lens. The flukes in these images are within a metre of the camera. Fortunately the pod was tolerant of my close proximity.