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Open Access Publications from the University of California

An Unparalleled Sexual Dimorphism of Sperm Whale Encephalization


The sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus (Linnaeus, 1758) is the largest toothed whales and possesses the highest absolute values for brain weight on the planet (together with the killer whale Orcinus orca ). Former calculations of the encephalization quotient (EQ), which is used to compare brain size of different mammalian species, showed that the sperm whale brain is smaller than expected for its body mass. However, the data reported in the literature and formerly used to calculate the sperm whale EQ suffered from a potential bias due to the tendency to measure mostly larger males of this extreme sexually dimorphic species. Accordingly, we found that the brains of female sperm whales are close to the absolute weight range of the males, but, given the much lower body mass of females, their EQ results more than double of what reported before for the whole species, and is thus nearly into the primate range (female EQ = 1.28, male EQ = 0.56). This sexual dimorphism is unique among mammals. Female sperm whales live in large families in which social interactions and inter-individual communication are essential, while adult males live solitarily. Thus the particular sex-specific behavior of SWs may have led to a maternally-driven social evolution, and eventually contributed to achieve female EQ values (but not male EQs) among the highest ever calculated for mammals with respect to their large body mass.

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