Beaked whales in Hawai‘i

Five Blainville's beaked whales off the west coast of the island of Hawai‘i. Photo by Deron Verbeck/Iamaquatic.com.

Almost a quarter of the 86 recognized species of cetaceans are beaked whales, members of the Family Ziphiidae. There are currently 21 recognized species, but several new species have been described in recent years and it is likely that more will be recognized as genetic analyses are undertaken on skeletal specimens and additional specimens are collected from stranded animals. Three species of beaked whales have been documented in Hawaiian waters - Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), Blainville's beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) and Longman's beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus). We've encountered all three species in our work off the island of Hawai‘i, and have focused much of our research attention since 2003 on studying Cuvier's and Blainville's beaked whales. This has included studies of diving behavior, movements, habitat use, population size, and social organization. A number of publications and reports have resulted from this work - links to pdfs of these can be found at the bottom of this page

Download the above for information on how to distinguish between Cuvier's and Blainville's beaked whales.

A number of photographs of beaked whales and more information is below.

Adult female Cuvier's beaked whale surfacing near our boat, May 5, 2008, off the island of Hawai‘i. Photo by Robin Baird. This individual, HIZc027 in our catalog, has been documented several times off the island. We are able to recognize individual beaked whales based on the unique patterning of scars on the back, as well as notches on the dorsal fin. Because of the large number of scars, photos from almost any angle can be used to identify individuals.

Encounters with beaked whales in Hawai‘i are not frequent, on average we encounter beaked whales once every approximately five days of research effort. Based on our study Cuvier's beaked whales are the seventh-most frequently encountered species of toothed whale in Hawai‘i, while Blainville's beaked whales are the 10th-most frequently encountered species.

Adult male Cuvier's beaked whale off Kona, December 2, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster. We've seen this individual, HIZc044 in the catalog, on two previous occasions, in November 2006 and in May 2008. The linear scars on this individual are caused by fights with other male Cuvier's beaked whales (only the males have erupted teeth), while the numerous oval scars/indentations are caused by cookie-cutter sharks.

An adult Cuvier's beaked whale, April 28, 2009. Photo by Robin Baird. This individual, HIZc041 in our catalog, was first documented off the island by Dan Mcsweeney in October 1994, and was seen again in July 2007 and on our December 2008 trip. Although the large amount of white coloration on the forward two-thirds of the body initially caused us to think it was an adult male (all adult males have extensive white on their bodies), the lack of linear scars from fighting with other males, and no visible teeth when the head was visible, indicates this individual is an adult female.

A Cuvier's beaked whale with a deformed rostrum, April 23, 2009. Photo by Robin Baird. This whale is missing most of the upper jaw, although whether it is a congenital problem or from an injury is not clear from the photos. Based on the extensive white coloration this individual is an adult (see the 2007 paper by McSweeney et al. in Marine Mammal Science, available below). Based on the lack of erupted teeth in the lower jaw (only the teeth of males erupt from the gums), and the relative lack of tooth scars, this is an adult female.

Adult female Cuvier's beaked whale with satellite tag, immediately after tagging, May 5, 2008. The tag (gray in color with a black dot in the center) is visible just below and behind the fin. This individual also has a fresh wound from a cookie-cutter shark bite (in front of and below the fin) as well as numerous older scars from cookie-cutter shark bites. Photo by Robin Baird. Information from these satellite tags is allowing us to assess movements outside of our study area.

An adult male Blainville's beaked whale, May 2, 2009. Photo by Daniel Webster.

An adult female Blainville's beaked whale, April 29, 2009. Photo by Daniel Webster. In female Blainville's beaked whales the teeth do not erupt from the gums and the lower law is relatively straight.

A sub-adult male Blainville's beaked whale, April 29, 2009. Photo by Russ Andrews. The two teeth of this individual have not yet erupted from the gums, as they do in adult males (see below), but the lower jaws are arching upwards, indicating a sub-adult male.

An adult male Blainville's beaked whale, April 29, 2009. Photo by Daniel Webster. The tips of the two teeth are visible above the gums - on the right tooth there are a number of purple stalked barnacles attached.

Juvenile Blainville's beaked whale, July 10, 2008. Photo by Brad Hanson.

Adult female Blainville's beaked whale (HIMd025) with a deformed rostrum, July 10, 2008. Photo by Mai Sakai. This individual has been seen multiple times off the island, with sightings in 1991, 1994, 1995, 2002, and 2003.

Adult male Blainville's beaked whale (HIMd020), July 10, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster. This individual has been documented once previously off Kona, in 2003. Blainville's beaked whales are strongly sexually dimorphic in skull morphology, with a highly arched lower jaw and teeth that erupt in the middle of the jaw. In Hawai‘i the teeth are often covered in stalked barnacles (see close-up photo below). Male Blainville's also have extensive linear scars on the head, from fighting with other males.

Close-up of the head of an adult male Blainville's beaked whale (HIMd020), July 10, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird. The teeth that are erupted from the lower jaw are covered in stalked barnacles, and thus are not visible. The brownish coloration covering most of the head are likely diatoms.

Click on the Play button above to see the animation

To examine movements and habitat use we are using remotely-deployed satellite tags with this species. This is a time-lapse animation of the locations from five tagged Blainville's beaked whales from July and August 2008. The individuals are color-coded and labeled by their identifying number. At some stages, while it appears that certain individuals move away from HIMd007, the next location will generally be right back with the HIMd007, suggesting that the movement away was likely due to Argos error, not a separation between the individuals. The last location of each individual remains on the screen when the tag has ceased transmitting. More information on these individuals and the movements can be found in the paper by Schorr et al., published in Endangered Species Research.

Juvenile Blainville's beaked whale breaching next to an adult female, July 10, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas. Note the ventral throat grooves, characteristic of beaked whales. The brownish patches on the belly of this animal are likely diatoms.

Juvenile Blainville's beaked whale with suction-cup attached time-depth recorder, July 10, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird. This tag remained attached for approximately 2 hours, during which time the whale made one long dive (45 minutes) to 829 m in depth. Based on the number of white oval scars (caused by cookie-cutter shark bites), we estimate this whale was 1-2 years of age.

Longman's beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus) off Kona. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

Longman's beaked whale off Kona showing beak of one individual. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

References on beaked whales

  • Schorr, G.S., E.A. Falcone, D.J. Moretti, R.W. Baird, D.L. Webster, M.B. Hanson and R.D. Andrews. 2011. Satellite telemetry reaches new depths: a case study of the application of a new depth-linked satellite tag to study Cuvier's beaked whales Poster presentation at the Fourth International Science Symposium on Bio-logging, Hobart, Tasmania, March 2011. Download PDF copy

  • Baird, R.W., G.S. Schorr, D.L. Webster, D.J. McSweeney, M.B. Hanson and R.D. Andrews. 2010. Movements and habitat use of Cuvier's and Blainville's beaked whales in Hawai‘i: results from satellite tagging in 2009/2010. Report prepared under Order No. AB133F09SE4843 from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, CA. Download PDF copy

  • Faerber, M.M., and R.W. Baird. 2010. Does a lack of observed beaked whale strandings in military exercise areas mean no impacts have occurred? A comparison of stranding and detection probabilities in the Canary and main Hawaiian Islands. Marine Mammal Science doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00370x. Download PDF copy. The definitive version is available at Wiley InterScience

  • Schorr, G.S., R.W. Baird, M.B. Hanson, D.L. Webster, D.J. McSweeney and R.D. Andrews. 2009. Movements of satellite-tagged Blainville's beaked whales off the island of Hawai‘i. Endangered Species Research 10:203-213. Download PDF copy

  • Baird, R.W. 2009. Beaked whale science coming of age: progress from Hawai‘i. Whalewatcher (Journal of the American Cetacean Society) 38(1)18-22.Download PDF copy

  • Baird, R.W., G.S. Schorr, D.L. Webster, S.D. Mahaffy, D.J. McSweeney, M.B. Hanson, and R.D. Andrews. 2009. Movements of satellite-tagged Cuvier's and Bainville's beaked whales in Hawai‘i: evidence for an offshore population of Blainville's beaked whales. Report prepared under Contract No. AB133F-08-SE-4534 from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, La Jolla, California. Download PDF copy

  • Baird, R.W., D.J. McSweeney, G.S. Schorr, S.D. Mahaffy, D.L. Webster, J. Barlow, M.B. Hanson, J.P. Turner and R.D. Andrews. 2009. Studies of beaked whales in Hawai‘i: population size, movements, trophic ecology, social organization and behaviour. ECS Special Publication 51:23-25. Download PDF copy

  • Hooker, S.K., R.W. Baird, and A. Fahlman. 2009. Could beaked whales get the bends? Effects of diving behaviour and physiology on modelled gas exchange for three species: Ziphius cavirostris, Mesoplodon densirostris and Hyperoodon ampullatus. Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology 167:235-246. Download PDF copy.The definitive version is available at doi:10.1016/j.resp.2009.04.023.

  • Baird, R.W., D.L. Webster, G.S. Schorr, D.J. McSweeney and J. Barlow. 2008. Diel variation in beaked whale diving behavior. Marine Mammal Science 24:630-642. Download PDF copy. The definitive version is available at Wiley InterScience

  • Schorr, G.S., R.W. Baird, M.B. Hanson, D.L. Webster, D.J. McSweeney, and R.D. Andrews. 2008. Movements of the first satellite-tagged Cuvier's and Blainville's beaked whales in Hawai‘i. Report prepared under Contract No. AB133F-07-SE-3706 to Cascadia Research Collective, Olympia, WA from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, La Jolla, California. Download PDF copy

  • Baird, R.W., D.L. Webster, G.S. Schorr, and D.J. McSweeney. 2007. Diel variation in beaked whale diving behavior. Final report prepared under Contract No. AB133F-06-CN-0053 to Cascadia Research Collective, Olympia, Washington, from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, La Jolla, California. Download PDF copy

  • Baird, R.W., D.L. Webster, G.S. Schorr, D.J. McSweeney and J. Barlow. 2007. Diel variation in beaked whale diving behavior: physiological limitation or predation avoidance? Talk presented at the 17th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Cape Town, South Africa, November-December 2007. Download PDF copy of abstract

  • Baird, R.W., D.J. McSweeney, G.S. Schorr, S.D. Mahaffy, D.L. Webster, J. Barlow, M.B. Hanson and R.D. Andrews. 2007. Site fidelity and movements of Cuvier's and Blainville's beaked whales at three spatial/temporal scales: combining VHF radio tracking, satellite tagging and long-term photo-identification. Presentation at the 21st Annual conference of the European Cetacean Society, San Sebastian, Spain, April 24, 2007. Download PDF copy of abstract

  • Faerber, M.M., and R.W. Baird. 2007. Does a lack of beaked whale strandings in relation to military exercises mean no impacts have occurred? A comparison of stranding and detection probabilities in the Canary and Hawaiian Islands. Talk presented at the 17th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Cape Town, South Africa, November-December 2007. Download PDF copy of abstract

  • Faerber, M.M., and R.W. Baird. 2007. Beaked whale strandings in relation to military exercises: a comparison between the Canary and Hawaiian Islands. Presentation at the 21st Annual conference of the European Cetacean Society, San Sebastian, Spain, April 22-27, 2007. Download PDF copy of poster

  • McSweeney, D.J., R.W. Baird and S.D. Mahaffy. 2007. Site fidelity, associations and movements of Cuvier’s (Ziphius cavirostris) and Blainville’s (Mesoplodon densirostris) beaked whales off the island of Hawai‘i. Marine Mammal Science 23:666-687. Download PDF copy. The definitive version is available at Wiley InterScience

  • Schorr, G.S., R.W. Baird, D.L. Webster, D.J. McSweeney, M.B. Hanson, R.D. Andrews and J. Barlow. 2007. Spatial distribution of Blainville's beaked whales, Cuvier's beaked whales, and short-finned pilot whales in Hawai'i using dorsal fin-attached satellite and VHF tags: implications for management and conservation. Talk presented at the 17th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Cape Town, South Africa, November-December 2007. Download PDF copy of abstract

  • Baird, R.W., D.L. Webster, D.J. McSweeney, A.D. Ligon, G.S. Schorr, and J. Barlow. 2006. Diving behaviour of Cuvier's (Ziphius cavirostris) and Blainville's (Mesoplodon densirostris) beaked whales in Hawai‘i. Canadian Journal of Zoology 84:1120-1128. Download PDF copy

  • Baird, R.W., G.S. Schorr, D.L. Webster, D.J. McSweeney, and S.D. Mahaffy. 2006. Studies of beaked whale diving behavior and odontocete stock structure in Hawai‘i in March/April 2006. Report prepared under contract No. AB133F-06-CN-0053 to Cascadia Research from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, La Jolla, CA. Download PDF copy

  • Cox ,T.M., T.J. Ragen, A.J. Read, E. Vos, R.W. Baird, K. Balcomb, J. Barlow, J. Caldwell, T. Cranford, L. Crum, A. D’Amico, G. D’Spain, A. Fernández, J. Finneran, R. Gentry, W. Gerth, F. Gulland, J. Hildebrand, D. Houser, T. Hullar, P.D. Jepson, D. Ketten, C.D. MacLeod, P. Miller, S. Moore, D. Mountain, D. Palka, P. Ponganis, S. Rommel, T. Rowles, B. Taylor, P. Tyack, D. Wartzok, R. Gisiner, J. Mead, L. Benner. 2006. Understanding the impacts of anthropogenic sound on beaked whales. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 7:177-187. Download PDF copy

  • Baird, R.W., D.L. Webster, D.J. McSweeney, A.D. Ligon, G.S. Schorr and J. Barlow. 2005. Diving behavior of Cuvier's and Blainville's beaked whales: implications for mass-strandings in relation to high-intensity sonar. Presentation at the 16th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, San Diego, CA, December 2005.

  • Baird, R.W., D.L. Webster, D.J. McSweeney, A.D. Ligon and G.S. Schorr. 2005. Diving behavior and ecology of Cuvier’s (Ziphius cavirostris) and Blainville’s beaked whales (Mesoplodon densirostris) in Hawai‘i. 2005. Report prepared under Order No. AB133F-04-RQ-0928 to Cascadia Research Collective, Olympia, WA from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, La Jolla, CA. Download PDF copy

  • Baird, R.W., D.J. McSweeney, A.D. Ligon and D.L. Webster. 2004. Tagging feasibility and diving of Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) and Blainville's beaked whales (Mesoplodon densirostris) in Hawai‘i. Report prepared under Order No. AB133F-03-SE-0986 to the Hawai'i Wildlife Fund, Volcano, HI, from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, La Jolla, CA, 92037 USA. Download PDF copy

  • Hooker, S.K., H. Whitehead, S. Gowans and R.W. Baird. 2002. Fluctuations in distribution and patterns of individual range use of northern bottlenose whales. Marine Ecology Progress Series 225:287-297. Download PDF copy

  • Hooker, S.K., R.W. Baird, S. Al-Omari, S. Gowans and H. Whitehead. 2001. Behavioral reactions of northern bottlenose whales to biopsy and tagging procedures. Fishery Bulletin, U.S. 99:303-308. Download PDF copy

  • Hooker, S.K., and R.W. Baird. 1999. Deep-diving behaviour of the northern bottlenose whale, Hyperoodon ampullatus (Cetacea: Ziiphidae). Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. 266:671-676.Download PDF copy

  • Hooker, S.K., and R.W. Baird. 1999. Observations of Sowerby's beaked whales (Mesoplodon bidens) in the Gully, Nova Scotia. Canadian Field-Naturalist 113:273-277.Download PDF copy

  • Willis, P.M., and R.W. Baird. 1998. Sightings and strandings of beaked whales on the west coast of Canada. Aquatic Mammals 24:21-25. Download PDF copy

    Blainville's beaked whales off the west coast of the island of Hawai‘i. Photo by Deron Verbeck/Iamaquatic.com.

    All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.

    Links to additional information on beaked whales

    Cascadia Research Hawai‘i web page

    Smithsonian Institution beaked whale identification guide

    Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization

    Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, bottlenose whale research in the Gully

    Centre for Cetacean Research & Conservation, Cook Islands

    D-tagging work of Mark Johnson and Natacha Aguilar Soto in the Canary Islands