Cuvier’s beaked whale

Ziphius cavirostris

Appearance

Size:  max 7m

Key feature: Coloration and sloping forehead.

Cuvier’s beaked whales have a high variation of colour, ranging from dark greys, 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 jar extends out further than the upper jaw, revealing two large cylindrical teeth. They sometimes have barnacles attached to them and adult males are often seen with scarring on their backs. They have a small dorsal fin which is set well back on their body. Males typically have scars, and females don't. This is because males rake one another with their teeth to fight for territory or females.

Behaviour

Cuvier’s beaked whales travel alone, or in groups of 3 – 12. They are normally wary of boats and tend to avoid them, however can sometimes be inquisitive. When they swim, they appear to lurch through the water, revealing their head. Breaching is rarely observed, but when they do they shoot straight out the water like a bullet creating quite a splash when they land back into the water. Their blow is low and forward to the left. it has been recorded that Cuvier's beaked whales can dive down to depths of 2000m and hold their breath for over two hours at a time.

Distribution

Cuvier’s beaked whale is one of the most abundant and widespread beaked whale. Its distribution is global through temperate and tropical seas, which is known mainly from stranding incidents. They can be seen in deep water as far north as Ireland but the highest densities of sightings are in the Bay of Biscay, particularly around the deep sea canyons in the south.

Threats

The global population is thought to be relatively large but they are found stranded more than any other beaked whale. This species is not known to have any widespread declines, but concerns of a decrease of prey availability and by-catch are present. The main concern is acoustic pollution; recently mass strandings of Cuvier’s beaked whale have been linked with military activity.

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