Northern bottlenose whale

Hyperoodon ampullatus
Northern bottlenose whale


Size: max 7-9m

Key features:
- Large bulbous forehead
- Definite small stubby beak
- Long and rotund

The northern bottlenose whale is the largest beaked whale in the European Atlantic. It has a very distinctive “bulbous melon” head and small stubby beak. It is grey/brown in colour with a lighter coloured underside.


The northern bottlenose whale typically travels in small groups of 4-10 individuals. It is one of the more well-known beaked whales due to its inquisitive behaviour frequently moving close to stationary boats and ships. Lobtailing and breaching are not uncommon but are typically seen moving slowly at the surface. The bulbous head on males is more pronounced than that on females.


Northern bottlenose whales are most commonly seen in deep water beyond the continental shelf and around deep-sea canyons. ORCA typically have one or two sightings in the Bay of Biscay each year but there appear to be an abundance of them in the Arctic Ocean between Iceland and southwest Svalbard. Research suggests that populations in the western North Atlantic are resident year round but at least some populations in Europe appear to be migratory.


The northern bottlenose whale was the only species of beaked whale to be hunted by whalers. Their behaviour of approaching boats and staying with wounded animals made them an easy target for whalers. Tens of thousands were killed before they became a protected species in 1977. As these animals are a deep diving species a large threat they face is that of ship sonar, which can confuse these animals that use noise to locate their food at depth. 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

  • Zoom in by using the scroll on your mouse or using the + and - buttons on the map.
  • Click and drag the map to move it around and see different areas.
  • Click on each icon on the map to find out the date, time, latitude, longitude, route, vessel, species, and group size seen for that species at that point.

Whale watching


Join in on a Sea Safari Whale Watching trip
Train with us


Become an Ocean Conservationist
Volunteer with ORCA


Become a Marine Mammal Surveyor & volunteer in offshore surveys

Support ORCA

There are many ways you can help ORCA to continue its vital work

Get involved

Become a surveyor

All you need is a passion for whales and dolphins and to take an ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor course, which will teach you everything you need to know to become a citizen scientist.

Book a sea safari

ORCA partner with Brittany Ferries to offer our unforgettable Sea Safari trips each summer, where you can see some of the wonders of the ocean right on our doorstep.