Hector's beaked whale

Hector's beaked whale
Hector's beaked whale
Size comparison against an average human
Conservation status
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Ziphiidae
Genus: Mesoplodon
Species: Mesoplodon hectori
Binomial name
Mesoplodon hectori
Gray, 1871
Hector's beaked whale range

Hector's beaked whale (Mesoplodon hectori), is a small mesoplodont living in the Southern Hemisphere. This whale is named after Sir James Hector, a founder of the colonial museum in Wellington, New Zealand. Some specimens washed up and been sighted in California and once thought to belong to this species have subsequently been shown through analysis of mtDNA and detailed morhological examination to be a new species, Perrin's beaked whale (Dalebout et al. 2002). The species has rarely been seen in the wild.

Some data supposedly referring to this species, especially juveniles and males, turned out to be based on the misidentified specimens of Perrin's beaked whale - especially since the adult male of Hector's beaked whale was only more recently described. Dalebout et al. (2002) specifically list Mead (1981), Mead (1984), Mead & Baker (1987), Mead (1989), Baker (1990), Jefferson et al. (1993), Mead (1993), Carwardine (1995), Reeves and Leatherwood (1994), Henshaw et al. (1997) and Messenger and McQuire (1998) as erroneously attributing data from the new species to Hector's beaked whale.


Physical description

Reaching a maximum length of about 4.2 meters (1.9 m when born), and with an estimated weight of about 1 tonne (1.032 tons), Hector's is one the smallest of the beaked whales. It is known from only a few stranded animals and a single confirmed sighting of a juvenile off Australia. Hector's beaked whales are dark greyish-brown dorsally, paler ventrally. A single adult male specimen had a white beak and white on the anterior portion of the head, with white, linear scars criss-crossing its body, while the juvenile seen off Western Australia had a mask covering its eyes and extending unto its melon and upper beak. The melon, which is not very prominent, slopes quite steeply to the short beak. Adult males have a pair of flattened, triangular teeth near the tip of the lower jaw. As with most other beaked whales, the teeth do not erupt in females. The dorsal fin is triangular to slightly hooked, small, and rounded at the tip. The leading edge of the dorsal fin joins the body at a sharp angle.


Nothing is known about the diet of this species, although it is assumed to feed on deepwater squid and fish. Because they lack functional teeth, they presumably capture most of their prey by suction.


With only two probable sightings, there is little information on the behavior of this whale. This species may be unusual for a mesoplodont because, in both sightings, one of the animals seemed inquisitive and actually approached the boat. Body scarring suggests there may be extensive fighting between males, which is common in beaked whales.


Nothing is known about breeding in this species. Sightings are rare due to their deep-ocean distribution, elusive behaviour and possible low numbers.

Population and Distribution

Hector's beaked whale has a circumpolar distribution in cool temperate Southern Hemisphere waters between approximately 35° and 55°S. Most records are from New Zealand, but there are also reports from Falkland Sound, Falkland Islands, Lottering River, South Africa, Adventure Bay, Tasmania, and Tierra del Fuego, in southern South America.


This species has never been hunted at all, and has not entangled itself in fishing gear. Most sightings of the whale have been stranded specimens on beaches, particularly in New Zealand.


  1. MNZ MM001834 - 16 July 1980; Kaikoura, New Zealand


  1. ^ Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L. (2008). Mesoplodon hectori. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 24 March 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of data deficient.


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  • Baker, Alan N. (1990): Whales and dolphins of New Zealand and Australia: An identification guide. Victoria University Press, Wellington.
  • Carwadine, M. (1995): Whales, dolphins and porpoises. HarperCollins, London.
  • Dalebout, Merel L.; Mead, James G.; Baker, C. Scott; Baker, Alan N. & van Helden, Anton L. (2002): A New Species of Beaked Whale, Mesoplodon perrini sp. n. (Cetacea: Ziphiidae), Discovered Through Phylogenic Analysis of Mitochondrial DNA Sequences. Marine Mammal Science 18(3): 577-608. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2002.tb01061.x PDF fulltext
  • Henshaw, M.D.; Leduc, R.G.; Chivers, S.J. & Dizon, A.E. (1997): Identification of beaked whales (family Ziphiidae) using mtDNA sequences. Marine Mammal Science 13(3): 487-495. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.1997.tb00656.x (HTML abstract)
  • Jefferson, T.A.; Leatherwood, S. & Webber, M.A. (1993): FAO species identification guide: Marine mammals of the world. United States Environment Programme & Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. PDF fulltexr
  • Mead, James G. (1981): First records of Mesoplodon hectori (Ziphiidae) from the northern hemisphere and a description of the adult male. Journal of Mammalogy 62(2): 430-432. doi:10.2307/1380733 (First page image)
  • Mead, James G. (1984): Survey of reproductive data for the beaked whales (Ziphiidae). Report of the International Whaling Commission Special Issue 6: 91-96.
  • Mead, James G. (1989): Beaked whales of the genus Mesoplodon. In: Ridgway, S.H. & Harrison, R. (eds.): Handbook of marine mammals Vol.4: 349-430. Academic Press, London.
  • Mead, James G. (1993): The systematic importance of stomach anatomy in beaked whales. IBI Reports 4: 75-86.
  • Mead, James G. & Baker, Alan N. (1987): Notes on the rare beaked whale, Mesoplodon hectori (Gray). Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 17: 303-312.
  • Messenger, S.L. & McQuire, J.A. (1998): Morphology, molecules and the phylogenetics of cetaceans. Systematic Biology 47(1): 90-124. doi:10.1080/106351598261058 (HTML abstract)
  • Perrin, William F.; Wursig, Bernd & Thewissen, J.G.M (eds.) (2002): Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-551340-2
  • Reeves, Randall R. & Leatherwood, S. (1994): Dolphins, porpoises and whales: 1994-98 Action plan for the conservation of cetaceans. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. ISBN 2-8317-0189-9
  • Reeves, Randall R.; Steward, Brent S.; Clapham, Phillip J. & Owell, James A. (2002): Sea Mammals of the World. A & C Black, London. ISBN 0-7136-6334-0

External links

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