Hector's beaked whale
First described from stranded remains in 1866, the Hector's beaked whale was not positively identified in the wild until the mid 1970s. Most information on this species has been gathered from stranded individuals and skeletons, and one confirmed sighting in the wild. Records previously thought to be of this species off the coast of California were later discovered to be of the newly classified Perrin's beaked whale instead, and valid records are sparse.
The Hector's beaked whale is one of the smallest members of the beaked whale family. This species has a relatively short beak which is well defined and pale grey or white in colour, with dark patches around the eyes and beak. The small, triangular teeth are visible towards the tip of the beak in males, and sometimes have barnacles attached to them. The robust, spindle-shaped body is small and dark grey or brownish on the upper side, and the belly is pale grey. A white area often surrounds the navel and it has a crescent-shaped blowhole. The Hector's beaked whale has short flippers and a triangular dorsal fin with a rounded tip. The bodies of males are often scarred, which suggests inter-male aggression.
In general it is difficult to distinguish between beaked whales in the field. With only one confirmed sighting of Hector's beaked whale (off western Australia) it is difficult to record anything definite about their behaviour. However, unlike other beaked whales, it is suggested that this species may behave inquisitively around boats. If this is normal behaviour then it seems strange that there have not been more sightings, giving rise to the speculation that this species may be naturally rare. It is thought that they feed primarily on deep water squid off the continental shelf like the other beaked whale species.
Hector's beaked whales are thought to be a southern hemisphere species, found south of the Tropic of Capricorn. The majority of records are from New Zealand, but there are also reports of Hector's beaked whales found off the Falkland Islands, South Africa and South America. Hector's beaked whales have not been the target of hunting, but as with other beaked whales may be vulnerable to other threats including entanglement in fishing gear, climate change, marine debris, and noise pollution. A worldwide population estimate has not been made and the species is listed by IUCN as Data Deficient.