Cuvier’s beaked whale

Ziphius cavirostris
Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) - Photo: Lisle Gwynn
Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) - Photo: John Chubb
Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) - Photo: Lisle Gwynn

Appearance

Size: max 5.5-7m

Key features:
- Pale head
- Scarred body – particularly on the males
- Sloping forehead ending in blunt beak
- Head and beak look like a the head of a goose
- Males have two teeth protruding from the tip of their beak

Cuvier’s beaked whales have a high variation of colour, ranging from dark grey, to reddish brown, to almost white; their head is lighter than the rest of their body (cream to white in colour). They have a gentle sloping forehead and a short stubby beak. Their lower jaw extends out further than the upper jaw, revealing two large cylindrical teeth. Males fight each other for territory and females, raking each other with their teeth creating scars that stay white for the rest of their lives.


Behaviour

Cuvier’s beaked whales travel alone or in groups of 3-12, with lone animals typically being older males. Normally Cuvier’s beaked whales are known to avoid boats, but have been known to be quite inquisitive of the ferries passing through the Bay of Biscay. They are also known to occasionally breach vertically out of the water like a bullet, belly flopping back in the water, but typically are seen moving slowly within 10’s of metres from the ship.

Distribution

The Cuvier’s beaked whale strandings suggest they are a cosmopolitan species in temperate and tropical waters. However, it is regularly seen in the deep waters of the Bay of Biscay particularly around the canyons along northern Spain.

Threats

As these animals are a deep diving species the largest threat that they face is that of ship sonar, which can confuse these animals as they use noise to locate their food at depth. Recent mass strandings of this species have been linked with military activity. Other threats include: marine pollutants (particularly plastic), entanglement in fishing gear, collision with ships, overfishing of prey species and climate change as this can alter their habitat and the location of food.

Sightings Map

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