Cuvier's beaked whale

Ziphius cavirostris
Other names: 
  • Goosebeaked Whale
Maximum length: 
  • Male: 6.9m
  • Female: 5.5m
  • Calf: 2.7m
Maximum weight: 
  • Male: 3,000 kg
  • Female: Unknown
  • Calf: Unknown
  • Fish
  • Squid
  • Crustaceans
Estimated population: 
IUCN Listing: 
CITES Appendix: 
CMS Appendix: 

Cuvier's beaked whales have one of the widest distributions of all the beaked whales and can be found in all the world's oceans and even some semi-enclosed seas. There is substantial debate as to whether or not the Cuvier's population in the Mediterranean is in fact distinct from other world populations and should be classified as a subspecies; further investigation is warranted.


Cuvier's beaked whales although similar in appearance to many other beaked whale species, can be identified from their robust shape, short beak and unique colouration. Body colour is dark grey to light rusty brown whilst the head is substantially paler, almost white. There is also a distinct 'dip' between the melon and the body. Older males tend to lighten in colour and become more heavily scarred with age and some animals can be seen with a light orange-coloured sheen to their skin, thought to be caused by diatoms. Adult males also have one pair of small teeth visible at the front of their lower jaws; these teeth do not erupt in females or calves. All animals have a curved mouthline, giving the appearance of a ‘smile'. Flippers are small and rounded and tucked into the ‘flipper pockets' when the animal is diving. The small dorsal fin is set two-thirds of the way back along its body. As with other beaked whales, there is no notch on the fluke.


Cuvier's beaked whale is a deep diver, regularly diving to depths of 2,000 metres or more where they hunt and feed on squid, some fish and crustaceans. Group sizes are small (perhaps 2-7 animals), but lone animals are often seen. Little is known about the animal's social habits. Cuvier's do not bowride but will occasionally breach.


These whales live in virtually all the deep seas except in the polar regions. They are generally studied around small oceanic islands where deep water is close to shore. Primary threats to Cuvier's are bycatch (particularly deep water drift gillnets) and naval sonar exercises. It is thought that the particular frequencies used in active sonar to detect submarines may produce panic, causing them to return to the surface too quickly, resulting in a condition similar to 'the bends'. In recent years, group strandings have been carefully examined for cause of death and Navies have been strongly implicated. Cuvier's is the only beaked whale species for which a global abundance estimate has been attempted and with an approximate figure of 100,000, the IUCN has listed this species as of Least Concern, though the Mediterranean sub-population is listed as Vulnerable.

Distribution map: