Northern bottlenose whale
Size: max 7-9m
- 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.