Sperm whale tooth found on Sisters' Islands

This is the second specimen from the species ever recorded in Singapore, with the first found just earlier in July this year.
Channel NewsAsia 7 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: A mysterious tooth found at Sisters' Islands Marine Park on Nov 25 has been positively identified as belonging to a sperm whale, officials from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCHM) said.

The 15.5cm-long specimen is the second sperm whale-related find this year. LKCHM's Ms Toh Chay Hoon and Mr Marcus Chua said the tooth comes from a much larger animal than the 10.6m female sperm whale that was found dead off Jurong Island on Jul 10.

In a paper in the Singapore Biodiversity Records, Ms Toh and Mr Chua suggested that the specimen could be from an adult male sperm whale. Male sperm whales have larger teeth on their lower jaws, which are thought to be used for battling other males, LKCHM said in a Facebook post. As sperm whales swallow their prey whole, their teeth are seldom used for feeding.



The sperm whale, of Moby Dick fame, is elusive in the region. The specimen found in July was the first of the species recorded in Singapore, and only the third in South-east Asia.

However, as there are signs of weathering on the tooth surface, it is not clear if the tooth came to be on the island’s lagoon by natural means. It could have been transported with material such as sand from outside Singapore that was used to reclaim the island between 1974 and 1975, it wrote.

- CNA/mz

Tooth possibly belonging to adult male sperm whale found in Singapore
Today Online 7 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — A 15.5cm tooth belonging to a sperm whale was found in a small lagoon located within the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park on Nov 25, making it the second find related to this elusive mammal to date.

The specimen was found during one of the guided walks at the park conducted by National Parks Board (NParks) and its volunteers.

The size of the specimen suggested that it was from an animal much larger than the 10.6m long female sperm whale that washed up near Jurong Island on July 10, and most likely belonged to an adult male, wrote Ms Toh Chay Hoon and Mr Marcus Chua from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in an online biodiversity record.

“Male sperm whales have large teeth on their lower jaws that are thought to be for battling other males. Scars on the bodies of sperm whales commonly attributed to battles with giant squids are often tooth marks that match these teeth rather than from squid beaks or suckers. These teeth are probably of limited use for feeding as most of their prey is swallowed whole,” said the museum on its official Facebook page.

Due to signs of weathering on the tooth’s surface, it is unknown whether the specimen came to be in the lagoon naturally or was transported with material used to reclaim the island between 1974 and 1975.

NParks will also be working closely with the museum to share the exhibit at Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Public Gallery on St John’s Island, the statutory board told TODAY.

"We are also grateful to our expert partners for helping us identify the find as a sperm whale tooth... This find highlights the important role that the Marine Park plays in documenting and communicating the significance of biodiversity discoveries in Singapore,” added NParks.

The dead female sperm whale that washed up earlier this year was the first sperm whale recorded in Singapore, and the third recorded in South-east Asia. Sperm whales were earlier recorded near Sarawak in 1995 and Phang Nga in western Thailand in 2012.

Its skeleton, once properly processed, will be displayed at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.


Sperm whale tooth found in Singapore
Audrey Tan, My Paper AsiaOne 8 Dec 15;

Scientists believe the 15.5cm tooth - found in a lagoon within the Sisters' Island Marine Park on Nov 25 - could have come from an adult male.


Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum/Toh Chay Hoon

A tooth from a sperm whale was found in a lagoon within the Sisters' Islands Marine Park on Nov 25, making it the second find related to the marine mammal this year.

In July, the 9-tonne carcass of an adult female sperm whale was found floating off Jurong Island. Affectionately dubbed Jubi Lee, its skeleton is now being prepared and is set to go on display at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum by the end of February.

Museum scientists believe the latest discovery, a 15.5cm tooth, could have come from an adult male.

"The size of the tooth suggests that it was from an animal much larger than the 10.6m female sperm whale that was found dead off Jurong Island," wrote museum officer Toh Chay Hoon and Marcus Chua, the museum's curator of mammals and birds, in a paper published on Friday in the Singapore Biodiversity Records.

The tooth, which weighs about 400g, is bigger and thicker than the ones found on the female, which were about the size of a person's finger, said Mr Chua.

As sperm whales swallow their prey whole, their teeth are likely to be of limited use for feeding. Instead, male sperm whales have large teeth on their lower jaws that are thought to be for battling other males, Mr Chua said.

The tooth was found by Ms Toh while she was conducting an intertidal walk for the National Parks Board (NParks) in the lagoon.

Signs of weathering on it made it hard to determine how long the tooth had been exposed and how it came to Singapore.

The surface layers on the tooth seem to have been lost, Mr Chua said. "This could be due to mechanical abrasion or chemical reactions. We don't know how fast (these layers) go away, so we can't tell how long it's been out there," he told The Straits Times.

The available information is also not enough to determine how the tooth came to the lagoon.

A possibility is that Singapore is on the migratory route for these large marine mammals, which can grow up to 20m. Although female sperm whales and calves remain in tropical or subtropical waters all year long, males migrate to colder waters and head back towards the Equator to breed.

The other possibility is that the tooth could have been transported to Singapore together with sand or other land reclamation materials.

Museum head Peter Ng said: "We plan to exhibit the pair together and showcase them to as many Singaporeans as possible - not just to teach them about these wonderful animals; but also to highlight the importance of marine conservation and the important work NParks and university researchers are doing."


Lagoon find gives teeth to marine conservation efforts
Audrey Tan Straits Times 8 Dec 15;

A 15.5cm-long tooth from a sperm whale was found in the Sisters' Islands Marine Park last month, making it the second find related to the marine mammal this year.

In July, the nine-tonne carcass of an adult female sperm whale was found floating off Jurong Island. Affectionately dubbed Jubi Lee, its skeleton is being prepared for display at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum by end-February.

The tooth was found by an officer of the museum, Ms Toh Chay Hoon, who was conducting an intertidal walk for the National Parks Board (NParks) in a lagoon within the marine park on Nov 25.

The museum's head, Mr Peter Ng, said: "The find is a rallying call for marine conservation in Singapore, highlighting its importance and the work that NParks and university researchers are doing."

PARK'S SOLID CONTRIBUTION

This find highlights the important role that the marine park plays in documenting and communicating the significance of biodiversity discoveries in Singapore.

DR KARENNE TUN, deputy director of the coastal and marine division at NParks' National Biodiversity Centre
Museum scientists believe the tooth could have come from an adult male sperm whale.

"The size of the tooth suggests it was from an animal much larger than the 10.6m female sperm whale that was found dead off Jurong Island," wrote Ms Toh and Mr Marcus Chua, the museum's curator of mammals and birds, in a paper published last Friday in the Singapore Biodiversity Records.

The tooth, which weighs about 400g, is bigger and thicker than the ones found in the female, which were each about the size of a person's finger, said Mr Chua.

As sperm whales swallow their prey whole, their teeth are likely to be of limited use for feeding. Instead, male sperm whales have large teeth in their lower jaws that are thought to be for battling other males, Mr Chua said.

But signs of weathering on the tooth make it difficult to determine how long it has been exposed and how it came to Singapore.

The surface layers on the tooth seem to have been lost, Mr Chua said. "This could be due to mechanical abrasion or chemical reactions. We don't know how fast (these layers) go away, so we can't tell how long it's been out there," he said. The information available is also not enough to determine how the tooth came to be in the lagoon.

One possibility is that Singapore is on the migratory route for these marine mammals, which can grow up to 20m. While female sperm whales and calves remain in waters close to the Equator all year round, males migrate to colder waters and head back towards the Equator to breed. Another possibility is that the tooth could have been transported to Singapore with sand or other land reclamation materials.

"We will be working closely with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum to share this exhibit at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery on St John's Island as well, for the public to gain a deeper understanding of the rich biodiversity in our waters," said Dr Karenne Tun, deputy director of the coastal and marine division at NParks' National Biodiversity Centre.

"This find highlights the important role that the marine park plays in documenting and communicating the significance of biodiversity discoveries in Singapore."

Mr Stephen Beng from the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore) said the finds show the inter-connected nature of the world's seas and oceans, and throw up a "thrilling mystery" about what could have happened to the whales along the way.

He said: "It is this connectivity we have to remain mindful of when gauging our impact on the natural world. We can make consumption choices in our daily lives which can help slow climate change and ensure the long-term sustainability of our oceans."


Related link
Sperm whale tooth at Pulau Subar Laut. 4 Dec 2015. SINGAPORE BIODIVERSITY RECORDS 2015: 191-192 ISSN 2345-7597


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