Sperm Whale Teeth
" "A wooden curio cabinet containing natural-history artifacts occupies a corner in the Lewisburg living room of Chris Martine, the David Burphee Chair in Plant Genetics & Research. Martine collected many of the objects during research excursions to Australia, the Amazon and other exotic parts of the world. A fern he keeps under glass came from the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Alabama, where he gave a talk. But his favorite items came from his home state of New Jersey, via the Panama Canal.
large sperm whale tooth
Christopher Williams ’92 Guitar Bucknell University
Photos: Emily Paine
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Chris Martine’s larger sperm whale tooth weighs a couple of pounds.
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As with all his other recordings, Christopher Williams ’92 played this guitar on his 12th album, We Will Remember, which was inspired by the Book of Joel and released in February.
When I was first given these two teeth, it really made me think a lot about what a sperm whale has to do to make a living. They’ve been in these depths that I could never get to, down in the dark, hunting for giant squid, which is an incredible thing to even imagine. They need big, sharp teeth to capture giant squid.

These teeth are amazing bony structures, and there’s so much weight to them. The smaller tooth is sharp, but it’s not super heavy. The other one is a bit further back in the mouth and is quite weighty, a couple of pounds. When I hold them in my hand, I can’t help but think about where they’ve been. It’s just awe-inspiring.

But there’s also a cool family history that’s tied to them. They entered our family through my great-grandfather, Alfred Koehler, who worked on one of the locks of the Panama Canal. Somehow these came into his possession through a trade with a person on a ship that could have been coming from anywhere in the world. My grandfather, Warren Koehler, kept them in a pair of shoeboxes in his basement workroom for decades. And when he passed away, my mother passed them on to me, because she knew that, as a biologist, I’d really appreciate it. So there’s this neat family history tied into it. There’s the biology and natural history tied into it. For all of those reasons, every person who comes to my house gets handed these, and I say, “Can you guess what they are?” Rarely does anyone guess right.

— As told to Sherri Kimmel