Sperm oil

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Sperm whale


A thick, yellow oil obtained, along with Spermaceti, from the head of the sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus or Physeter catadon. Sperm oil is composed of long chain fatty alcohol esters with very little fat. It was used at one time as a lamp oil and was later saponified to make soaps and cosmetics as well as to size textiles. Sperm oil is still used for lubrication and dressing leather. The expensive sperm oil was superior in quality to common Whale oil obtained from the blubber.

Synonyms and Related Terms

Physeter macrocephalus; Physeter catadon; cachalot oil; aceite de esperma de ballena (Esp.); sperm whale oil

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Soluble in chloroform, ether.
  • Insoluble in water, cold ethanol.
  • Saponification no. = 123-147;
  • Iodine no. = 80-84
  • Density = 0.875-0.885 g/ml

Resources and Citations

  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 748
  • Matt Roberts, Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1982
  • The Merck Index, Martha Windholz (ed.), Merck Research Labs, Rahway NJ, 10th edition, 1983 Comment: entry 8895; source for values on description page
  • CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, Robert Weast (ed.), CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, v. 61, 1980 Comment: iodine value=70; saponification value=140-144; lauric acid=16%, myristic acid=14%, palmitic acid=8%, stearic acid=2%, palmitoleic acid=15%, oleic acid=17%, linoleic acid=6.5%