Beaked Whales Ziphiidae
The family of whales known as the Beaked Whales are elusive in
all oceans. They are so difficult to see that most of what
we know about these whales comes from stranded individuals.
The beaked whales in general are deep divers and spend little
time on the surface. They are found mostly in water at least
1,000 feet deep and avoid boats.
Most members of the family, have an elongated beak and all
have a pair of grooves on the throat that converge in the front.
The flippers can be tucked into depressions in the body wall
giving them a sleek appearance. They are toothed whales, but
most retain only a single pair of teeth in adult males.
How to See a Beaked Whale
Your only chance of seeing a beaked whale in our area will
come on the long offshore trips to the continental shelf edge.
Even then you should expect to have to work at it.
Pay special attention to any call of Risso's Dolphin or Grampus
Dolphin which has a very similar head structure to Cuvier's
Beaked Whale which lacks the long beak. If it has a tall
dorsal fin it is a dolphin. A short dorsal fin set 2/3 of
the way back is a good indication of Cuvier's Beaked Whale. (see
A sighting of a Beaked Whale will resurrect an otherwise
Cuvier's Beaked Whale
The only beaked whale the author has experienced in our area
is Cuvier's Beaked Whale. It has the widest distribution
of any of the family.
Cuvier's Beaked Whale has a very short beak and may be
mistaken for a Risso' Dolphin. The blow is low and they can dive
for a half hour or more.
"Prefers deep offshore tropical to cool temperate marine
waters. Strandings have occurred in the Atlantic as far north as
Massachusetts and the Shetland Islands and as far south as
Tierra del Fuego and southern Africa, and in the Indo-Pacific
from the Aleutians to southern Australia, New Zealand and the
Chatham Islands." ¹
CORE 3-day trip to the
Continental Shelf 2001
of these unusual whales were seen on the 2001 June CORE 3 day trip to the
canyons of the Continental Shelf south of Nantucket.
The first sighting occured while the boat was still
anchored for the night and the author was eating
breakfast in the dining room. A pod of 8 Cuvier's
Beaked Whales surfaced right next to the boat and I was
able to grab my camera and get out on deck for this
close picture. Later 3 more animals were seen by the
spotter at a distance.
Cuvier's Beaked Whale photographed by Emmalee Tarry.
My second experience with
Cuvier's Beaked Whale occurred on the 2002 CORE trip to the
continental shelf edge. This time I saw one whale breech
and another in the water beside the breeching whale. The
whales were some distance from the boat and were seen only by 3
people on the trip all of whom were located in different parts
of the boat.
Beaked Whales to Look For
The following table summarizes the 6 beaked whales that
according to the reference may be in our area. You will need a
good reference field guide to identify these whales. Note that
one is called a Bottlenose Whale.
|Cuvier's Beaked Whale
|Deep, offshore, tropical to
cool temperate marine waters.
Strandings have occurred in the Atlantic as far north as
Massachusetts and the Shetland Islands and as far south
as Tierra del Fuego and southern Africa, and in the
Indo-Pacific from the Aleutians to southern Australia,
New Zealand and the Chatham Islands." ¹
|Northern. Bottlenose Whale
|Cold, temperate waters of
the North Atlantic. Labrador Sea, Davis Strait west of
Greenland. Rarely south of Nova Scotia , Deep water
|True's Beaked Whale
|Gervais' Beaked Whale
|Sowerby's Beaked Whale
|Blainville's Beaked Whale
|"Tropical and warm
temperate waters of all oceans. Incurions into the
higher latitudes are probably related to warm current
systems, such as the Gulf stream in the North
Atlantic... slope water
1,600 to 3,300 feet ... with even deeper gullies nearby.
¹ Information for this page from
the Guide to Marine Mammals of the World Randall R.
Reeves, Brent S. Stewart, Phillip J. Clapham, James A. Powell
and illustrated by Pieter A. Folkens. Alfred A. Knopf New York
Page author: Emmalee Tarry