Story and photos by Gaelin Rosenwaks


Montauk’s own Gaelin Rosenwaks, world renowned marine scientist and ocean explorer who has worked alongside Sir Richard Branson and Fabien Cousteau, is an inspirational local with a world-class repertoire of adventures, books, and photography to share. The sperm whale and Montauk have always been soft spots

From as early as I can remember, Montauk inspired in me a love of the ocean, all of her creatures, and our fascinating natural world. I never took for granted Montauk’s beauty and natural surroundings, including ocean life, which I’ve always found endlessly compelling.

 Staring into the eye of a sperm whale is a powerful experience. I was just a toddler when my mother took my brother and me to visit a young whale that had stranded on the beach. I was immediately captivated. A patrol had found this whale stranded in the surf on a chilly day in April 1981. He was sick but very much alive, so they brought him into a nearby boat basin. The young whale was nicknamed Physty, a play on the scientific name of sperm whales, Physeter macrocephalus, and how “feisty” he was in the basin.

 Physty was 25 feet long and 5-7 years old when he was found in the breaking waves, suffering from pneumonia. He received antibiotics and was released nine days later. It was a monumental achievement. Sperm whales were often sighted in the waters southeast of Montauk during whale watches and studies during the 1980s and are still frequently sighted by fishermen in the deep offshore waters off NY. Unlike the humpbacks, we aren’t likely to see a healthy sperm whale from the beach, but they do frequent our coast off the continental shelf. 

“…locked in a gaze with a pregnant female for over 25 minutes”

I will never forget the first time I looked into Physty’s enormous eye and he looked back. It is one of my first memories and remains as vivid today as it was then. Here was a mysterious creature that came from the ocean. What else could be in the ocean’s depths? That moment helped fuel my life’s work.

 After years working as an ocean scientist, photographer and storyteller, I decided to embark on a mission to reconnect with sperm whales and learn more about where Physty should have been. I headed to Dominica, a small island in the Eastern Caribbean, permits in hand, to photograph and film the resident population of sperm whales and ultimately learn about Physty.

 On the very first day, I found myself locked in a gaze with a pregnant female for over 25 minutes. She seemed to welcome me into her world, clicking on me, sizing me up and never letting me out of her sight. I had connected with Physty when I was a toddler, and now I found myself in a dance underwater with this whale. Time stood still as she swam slowly next to me trying to get closer and closer.

 I have returned to Dominica many times now to be with the whales, and every expedition yields new insights into the behaviors and family dynamics of sperm whales. I have had the privilege of babysitting a baby whale while its mother hunted, witnessed babies nursing and experienced other tender moments between the whales.

 This has been a powerful chapter in my life and I hope that telling the story can inspire other nature lovers, particularly young girls, to pursue their passions. The ocean and her creatures really need you.

Gaelin tells this story in a new book, “Sperm Whales: The Gentle Goliaths of the Oceans,” (Rizzoli, 2022), gaelinrosenwaks.com, IG @gaelingoexplore, Facebook.com/globaloceanexploration