Beaked whales are the second largest family of living whales. They get their name from their long, narrow snout, or beak. In some species, the snout slopes gradually into the forehead. In others, the forehead bulges out over the beak. Beaked whales breathe through a blowhole on top of their head. They have a melon, a fatty organ in their forehead that they use for echolocation (eck-oh-loh-KAY-shun).

Beaked whales are toothed whales. However, all species except Shepherd’s beaked whale have very few teeth. Males usually have only one or two teeth in the lower jaw and just stubs or no visible teeth at all in the upper jaw. The lower jaw teeth grow into tusks in some species. In females of some species, the teeth never erupt, or break through the skin, although in x rays they can be seen in the jaw.

Beaked whales are medium-sized whales ranging from about 13 to 42 feet (4 to 13 meters) in length and weighing up to 25,000 pounds (11,500 kilograms). They have cigar-shaped bodies that are thicker in the middle than at either end. Their dorsal (back) fin is small and set farther back toward the tail than in other whales. The bones in what would be the hand and arm of a land animal are compressed into a web of bone to make small flippers that fit against their body in depressions called flipper pockets. The back legs are so reduced that all that remains are a few internal pelvic bones. Beaked whales have strong, muscular tails that, unlike most other whales, are not notched. They range in color from light brown to gray to black. Males and females may have different color patterns.


Beaked whales live in every ocean of the world. The only place they are not found is under the permanent ice pack at either pole.


Beaked whales are mainly deep water whales. They can be found beyond the continental shelf in water as shallow as 660 feet (200 meters) and as deep as 9,900 feet (3,000 meters). Most live at depths of 3,300 to 9,900 feet (1,000-3,000 meters). These whales are often found around underwater formations such as canyons, shelf edges, and seamounts. A seamount is an underwater mountain that does not break the surface.


Beaked whales are good divers. Scientists believe that they feed on squid, fish, shrimp, and crabs that live on or near the ocean floor, because they have discovered these animals plus stones in the stomachs of dead beaked whales.

Beaked whales have well-developed melons and use echolocation to find and catch their prey. Echolocation involves making sounds or clicks that are then focused through the melon and skull. These to sounds bounce off objects. Sense organs pick up the echo or reflected sound and use information about its the timing, direction, and strength to determine the location of objects. This is particularly useful, since little sunlight penetrates to the depths where these animals feed.

Since beaked whales have few teeth, they feed by sucking in their food. They have up to six groves in their throat that can expand and along with their strong tongue suck prey into their mouth. These whales also have between four and fourteen chambers, or sections, to their stomach.


Not too much is known about beaked whale behavior or reproduction, because these animals live mainly in the open ocean and are hard to observe. They usually are seen in pods (groups) of ten or fewer animals, and within a pod they seem to swim or dive all at the same. This suggests that like other cetaceans, they have a good communication system. Some species regularly migrate, while others seem to stay within a home range.

From the scars that appear on the skin of some males, it appears that they fight each other with their tusks for the right to mate with females. One calf is born at a time. It stays with the mother and nurses for at least one year.


Three species of beaked whale were hunted mainly from the 1880s to the 1920s for their oil and spermaceti: the northern bottlenosed whale, Cuvier’s whale, and Baird’s whale. Otherwise beaked whales have few interactions with humans because they live so far off shore.


Not enough is known about most species of beaked whale to give them a conservation rating. However, four species, the northern bottlenose whale, the flathead bottlenose, Baird’s beaked whale, and Arnoux’s beaked whale, although not vulnerable to extinction, are listed as in need of conservation efforts.