Cuvier's beaked whale

Ziphius cavirostris


Azores : Bico de Garrafa - POR : Bico de Pato ou Zifio - ITA : Zifio - SPAIN : Ballenato de cuvier - GB : Cuvier’s beaked whale - GER : Cuvier schnabelwal - JAP : Akago kujira


Adults measure 5 to 7 m long and exceptionally they can reach 8 m. Their weight varies around 3 tons, and exceptionally they can reach 6.5 tons. The females are slightly larger than the males. This species presents a single pair of teeth located in the extremity of the lower jaw. The teeth are visible in the adult males, even with their mouths closed, but are not visible in the females. The mouthline is arched laterally and the beak is short and indistinct. Newborns measure 2 to 3 m long and they weigh about 250 kg. Skin colour and scarring can change significantly in this species, so no animals are alike. Usually the body looks dark brown, but in the sunlight some individuals appear reddish or orange. In the older animals, the head becomes almost completely white on the dorsal surface anterior to the dorsal fin. This species presents a V-shaped pair of short grooves on the throat. They feed essentially on cephalopods and also small deepwater fish. They can live up to 35 years.


Based on observations from the lookouts on land, it seems that this species is quite common in the Azores, but it remains discreet and we were barely able to observe these animals using vessels. In fact, they did not seem to appreciate at all the presence of vessels. Exceptionally, they showed some curiosity and we were able to approach them, as happened with a group of 7 individuals that accompanied two of our boats for some time on an afternoon in July 1996. This species can be confused with other beaked whale species (Sowerby, Gervais, and Blainville). However, the former does not show its beak as soon as it emerges and, particularly before a deep dive, it can lift its tail out of the water. The distinctive shape of the head and beak of this species, and its coloration can also help distinguish it from those other species. Its dives can take 20 to 40 minutes. The blow is often low and inconspicuous, and may project slightly forward and to the left. The Cuvier's beaked whale is gregarious and usually forms small groups of 7 to 8 individuals. The older males are frequently solitary.

Cetaceans in the Azores