Facts Matter

I’m hot and bothered. Have been for the past couple of weeks actually, because of this photo:


male sperm whale with parallel scars from fighting
Male sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) with battle scars


Well, not this actual photo, but one similar to it, one that doesn’t belong to me so I can’t share it here.

Here’s the backstory.

A publisher of nature books in Japan contacted me a couple of weeks ago. My friend at the company sent me a photo of a sperm whale up-close, with impressive scars on its face…wrote that the scars were the product of encounters with colossal squid.

Colossal Squid! My eyes lit up (yes, I’m a cephalopod geek too).

In case you’re not aware, colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) are a species of humongous deep-sea cephalopod, one that arguably grows larger than the better-known giant squid (Architeuthis dux), depending on the way you assess size. They are impressive animals, the stuff of nightmares to make you thankful that you’re not a fish living in the deep ocean.

One reason perhaps why the colossals might not be as well known is that they are found in the Southern Ocean, which, as any mariner can tell you, is cold and inhospitable. Giant squids are more cosmopolitan; they live in many places, including in nice warm climates, where more (sane) people tend to be.

Anyway, the person who contacted me asked if I had any photos depicting scars from a Physeter vs Architeuthis encounter.

As it turned out, I did, and I sent him some jpgs of giant squid scars on sperm whales resulting from the suction cups on the cephalopod’s feeding tentacles.

I also dug up the photo above (which I found after doing a quick scan of the many unprocessed sperm whale images I have) and sent it to him, asking what he thought the scraping scars were, as they very closely resembled the colossal squid scars in the photo he had sent to me.

So that was that for a while. I continued to tackle the mountain of not-yet-done tasks in front of me. But the sperm-whale-with-colossal-squid-scars photo sat in the back of my mind, bothering me like the itch from a nasty mosquito bite.

Something about it, besides the obvious fact that a colossal squid(!) was involved, haunted me. The mental mosquito bite just wouldn’t go away.

One thing led to another, and I found myself at my friend’s office, unrelated to this particular topic. While I was there, the photo in question came up during conversation, and I verbalised thoughts that had been brewing in my subconscious, thoughts I wasn’t even aware of until they came out of my mouth.

  1. The photo was in calm, clear blue water, with sunshine. How often does that happen in the Southern Ocean?
  2. The photo was up close. How many people have you ever heard of being up close with a sperm whale in the freezing, inhospitable waters of the Southern Ocean with beautiful clear conditions and perfect sunshine?

Sitting across the table from me, my friend paused to reflect. He disappeared, came back with his laptop, showed me the photo. I asked if the metadata had additional information. Turns out, it did.

The photo in question was taken in Dominica, which…the last time I checked…is not in the Southern Ocean. Not even close.

The metadata clearly stated that the photo was taken in Dominica (which explains the clear, blue water), and also stated that the scars were due to encounters with giant and colossal squid.


I actually said it aloud. It was more of a gut reaction than an intentional statement. But yes, the entire premise of the caption was complete and utter bull hockey.

To the best of human knowledge, colossal squids do not exist in that part of the world, and I don’t think there are giant squids there either, at least not often. And giant squids wouldn’t be the source of the scars in question.

The lightbulb went off in my friend’s head, and he realised he’d been duped by the photographers involved (yes, plural). The caption was fabricated nonsense, total misrepresentation (to be kind).

It almost fooled the editors involved. It could have come out as a major mistake in a book, had my subconscious OCD not locked-on to the clues in the image and formulated the right questions to ask.

My friend thanked me for saving him and his company from making a huge blunder, and we parted ways for the evening.

I still hadn’t let go though.

I sent the image above to several people I know, and eventually, one of the most prominent cetacean researchers in Japan clued me in.

Those scars are known as parallel scars, and are thought to be the result of inter-male encounters among sperm whales. In other words, scars from boys fighting.

Which…would explain why the scars in my photo above, taken in Japan, matched the scars in the photo taken in Dominica. Males fight everywhere (Newsflash for women the world over).

Here’s another view of that same whale I photographed in Japan:


sperm whale with whitened forehead from accumulated scars due to inter-male fighting
See the whitened forehead? This might be due to accumulated scarring.


I had initially been uncertain whether this whale was male or female, but the information about the scars made me look closer, and I found several photos of the whale (like the one below) which clearly show that it’s a male, if you know where to look.


male sperm whale in ogasawara japan
Male sperm whale in Ogasawara, Japan


Just to piss me off more…shortly after unraveling this mystery, I came across more captions on whale photos, this time while I was in the process of judging a photo contest. In this instance, I didn’t know who the photographer(s) were until after the judging was finished.

I’ll spare you the details, but basically…you guessed it…total BS captions, fabricated from thin air, no basis in fact, not even remotely so. Just stupid ridiculous as a matter of fact. This time about humpback whales.

So…the reason for this post is simple. Facts matter.

Don’t make stuff up. If you don’t know, don’t say/ write anything until you get the facts. If facts are not available, then state it clearly.

Otherwise, you are lying.

There is enough BS in the world without wannabe nature photographers piling on for the purpose of self-glorification.