Shepherd's beaked whale

Tasmacetus shepherdi
Other names: 
  • Tasman whale
  • Tasman beaked whale
Maximum length: 
  • Male: 7.1m
  • Female: 6.6m
  • Calf: 3m
Maximum weight: 
  • Male: Unknown
  • Female: Unknown
  • Calf: Unknown
  • Fish (primarily eelpouts)
  • Squid
  • Crustaceans
Estimated population: 
IUCN Listing: 
CITES Appendix: 
CMS Appendix: 
Not Listed

Like many other beaked whales, the Shepherd's beaked whale has rarely been seen in the wild, there have only been 4 confirmed sightings, and most information on this species is known from strandings. It is one of the largest of all beaked whales.


The Shepherd's beaked whale has a relatively slender, spindle-shaped body. It has a small, falcate dorsal fin with a narrow, pointed tip set far back on the body. The flippers are small, dark, and narrow. The melon is steep and rounded, yet narrow and becomes more well developed in older individuals. It has a prominent beak with a slender, straight mouthline and as with all beaked whales, throat grooves are present. The back is dark grey brown or olive brown, and this colouration extends well down the sides. A lighter patch above the flipper is surrounded by a dark shoulder band in front and the dark flanks behind. The tailstock from just behind the dorsal fin almost to the flukes is a pale tan, and the flukes are also brown. The throat and belly are creamy white, and a paler white patch is also present on the melon. Shepherd's beaked whale is the only species of beaked whale to have a full set of functional teeth in both jaws and the adult male has a larger pair of tusks that erupt at the tip of the lower jaw. Shepherd's beaked whale may be confused at a distance with any beaked whale that shares its range however the distinctive colouration on its flanks, steeper melon and pointed beak should ensure correct identification.


Almost nothing is known about the behaviour of Shepherd's beaked whales. Analysis of stomach contents suggests that it is unique amongst beaked whales, as opposed to feeding almost exclusively on squid and other cephalopods, it eats more fish. This may explain the presence of a full set of functional teeth. As with other species of beaked whales it likely prefers deep offshore waters.


The Shepherd's beaked whale is thought to be found in a circumpolar band in cold temperate waters of the southern hemisphere from 33°S to 50°S. Threats to this species include noise pollution and climate change. It may also ingest marine debris, including plastic bags, which can block the digestive system and lead to death. No global estimate exists for this species and the IUCN lists this species as ‘Data Deficient'.

Distribution map: