Source, Etc

Spermaceti is a solid wax obtained from the head of the sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, Linne (Phylum Chordata, Sub-phylum Graniata, Class Mammalia, Order Cetacea), and probably other species. Part of the spermaceti of commerce is obtained from the bottle-nosed whale, Hyperoodon rostratus.

The sperm whale inhabits the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Its head is of enormous size, occupying about one-third of the animal, which varies from 50 to 70 metres in length. In a special, large, cylindrical organ in the upper region of the huge jaw and above the right nostril an oily liquid, crude sperm oil, is secreted. After the whale has been captured this cavity is emptied of its oil, which, on cooling, deposits a quantity of crystalline matter. This, the spermaceti, is separated by pressure and purified by re-melting, and washing with dilute solution of sodium hydroxide to free it from the last traces of oil; the spermaceti separated from the soap thus produced, and from excess of free alkali, forms as it cools crystalline masses.


Spermaceti occurs in translucent, crystalline masses, pearly white in colour and unctuous to the touch; it has but little odour or taste. Specific gravity, 0.95 to 0.96; melting-point 46° to 50°; acid value not more than 1; saponification value 125 to 136; iodine value 3 to 44; refractive index at 80° about 1 .4330. It is insoluble in water and cold alcohol, but soluble in ether, chloroform, and boiling alcohol, crystallising from the latter solvent on cooling.


Spermaceti consists principally of cetyl palmitate, C15H3l.COOC16H33, together with a small proportion of esters of other fat acids.

Cetyl alcohol, C15H33OH, which can be obtained from spermaceti by saponifying with alcoholic solution of potassium hydroxide, diluting with hot water, filtering from the soluble potassium palmitate and crystallising from hot alcohol, forms brilliant, colourless crystals melting at 49.5°.


Spermaceti may be adulterated with stearic acid, stearin, tallow, and paraffin wax. Stearic and other fat acids raise the acid value; stearin, tallow, and paraffin wax are insoluble in boiling alcohol; stearin and tallow raise the saponification value but paraffin wax lowers it.


Ambergris is a substance formed in the intestine of the whale, and found there or floating in the sea. It occurs in masses of varying size (1 to 20 or more pounds), greyish in colour, veined, brittle, with an agreeable, persistent odour recalling musk.