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Beaked Whale: The Peculiar Feeders Of The Cetacean World

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Published on May 18th, 2013 | by Yellow Magpie


Beaked Whale: The Peculiar Feeders Of The Cetacean World

Beaked Whale Whale Photo By Dr. Brandon Southall NMFS OPR NOAA

The Beaked Whale has a very peculiar method of feeding that sets it distinctly apart from all the other cetaceans. Beaked whales are a group of 21 known species of whale that are named after their oblong mouths. 

Beaked Whale Appearance

The most dominant feature of beaked whales are their snouts which are elongated. Generally one or the sexes is much larger than the other. Whether it is the male or the female depends upon the particular species.

Males have prominent protrusions on their forehead that can be quite an unusual sight.

Beaked Whale Head Photo By Dr. Brandon Southall NMFS OPR NOAA

Though Beaked whales have teeth, unlike other toothed whales, they only possess one set. Males have prominent teeth whereas the females’ do not rise above the gum line. There is also another distinction in that Beaked whales’ teeth are not functional. They do not use them to eat.

It has been put forward that males use their teeth for fighting one another. Scientists point to scars on the bodies of males as evidence to back this up.

Diving Adaptations

Beaked whales are deep divers and some species can dive for periods of over one hour. Beaked whales adapt a streamlined profile tucking in their pectoral fins allowing their body to form a clean profile that has minimal drag. Once they engage in a dive some species can easily surpass 1,500-metre depths. Not fond of the surface, Beaked whales usually come up for air and quickly return to the comfort of the deep.

It is believed that Beaked whales are specially adapted for their underwater lifestyles with proportionally larger livers and spleens than those found in other cetaceans. The spleen is tasked with the responsibility of removing worn-out, oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

Beaked Whale And Calf Photo By Dr Brandon Southall NMFS OPR NOAA

Diet And Feeding Habits

Beaked whales feed predominantly on squid. They also eat crustaceans and fish.

Beaked whales use an entirely different method of feeding than any of the other cetaceans. They rapidly withdraw the tongues which creates a pressure difference between the outside water and their mouths. They use this pressure difference to suck their prey into their mouths. Grooves in their throats help to decrease the pressure and increase the suction power.

Beaked Whale Behaviour

Very little is known about Beaked whale behaviour. It it thought that males fight one another for females using their teeth to bite one another.

Of the whales that have been studied small groups of two to four individuals appear to be the norm, depending upon the species. Larger pods of up to twenty or more individuals have also been spotted in some cases. Another species, Longman’s Beaked whale, form very large groups of 100 or more individuals.

Beaked Whale (Arnouxs) In Antaractic Photo By Soler97 Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Whaling And Conservation

Beaked whales are one of the few groups of cetaceans that escaped whaling relatively unscathed. This was due mainly to the fact that they spend so little time at the water’s surface and as a result are rarely spotted in comparison to other types of whales.

Beaked whales are very vulnerable to pollutants in the water. Fishing nets can also trap the whales causing suffocation.

Nonetheless, one of the most serious threats to Beaked whales is sonar. Oil exploration and military vessel usage of sonar interfere with the whales’ echolocation. There have been several beaching incidents involving Beaked whales that occurred shortly after naval exercises.

Sonar is also thought to be a contributing cause of decompression sickness due to the animal becoming disorientated. This is especially the case when Beaked whales are undertaking long dives as the tolerances become so fine allowing little room for the animal to readjust to sound disturbances.

Vital Statistics

  • Beaked whales are between three (ten feet) and 13 metres (43 feet) in length.
  • They can weigh as much as 15 tonnes or as little as 1,000 kg.
  • Beaked whales are found throughout the Earth’s oceans.
  • They can live to be as old as 84 years. Nonetheless, they generally live to between 20 and 30 years.

Recommended Reading

Visit Wikipedia for more information on the Beaked Whale.

Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Whales: Kings Of The Cetaceans, Fin Whale: The Giant Speedster Of The Oceans and Our Love Affair With Our Favourite Cetacean for further insight into Whales and their cetacean cousins.

Among Giants: A Life With Whales is the fascinating story of underwater photographer, Charles ‘Flip’ Nicklin. Full of splendid pictures and insightful commentary about the whales this book is stunning.

You can obtain Among Giants: A Life with Whales here from Amazon.

For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Among Giants: A Life with Whales from here.

For Canada: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.

For Germany: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.

For France: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.

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