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Gervais' Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon europaeus)

Status | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution | Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview | Taxonomy | Key Documents | More Info

Status

MMPA Depleted - population
MMPA - all populations
CITES Appendix II - all populations

Species Description

Weight:
about 2,640 pounds (1200 kg)
Length:
about 15-17 feet (4.6-5.2 m)
Appearance:
dark gray or bluish-black;
males can be distinguished from females and juveniles by a pair of visible teeth that erupt from the front portion of the bottom jaw
Lifespan:
estimated at least 27 years, but may be up to 48 years
Diet:
cephalopods like squid, shrimp, and small fish
Behavior:
usually found individually or in small social groups;
while diving, they use suction to feed

Gervais' beaked whales, sometimes called the "Antillean" or "Gulf Stream beaked whale," are little known members of the beaked whale family (Ziphiidae) (Reeves et al. 2002). As adults, Gervais' beaked whales can reach estimated lengths of about 15-17 feet (4.6-5.2 m) and weigh at least 2,640 pounds (1200 kg). Females may be slightly larger than males. Males can be distinguished from females and juveniles by a pair of visible teeth that erupt from the front portion of the bottom jaw. Females and juveniles have teeth as well, but they remain hidden beneath the gum tissue of the mouth. The jawline is typically straight or slightly curved.

Gervais' beaked whales have a relatively small to medium size body with a moderately long beak and an indistinct sloping "melon". They have a small, triangular, wide-based, slightly "falcate", "dorsal" fin located far down (about two-thirds) the animal's back. The coloration of the body is dark gray or bluish to black with a paler ventral side. Animals tend to become darker as they age. Mature males may also have linear scars from battles over females. This species of beaked whale is difficult to observe and identify at sea due to a low profile at the surface and a small, inconspicuous blow.

Many species of beaked whales (especially those in the genus Mesoplodon) are very difficult to distinguish from one another (even when dead). At sea, they are challenging to observe and identify to the species level due to their cryptic, skittish behavior, a low profile, and a small, inconspicuous blow at the waters surface; therefore, much of the available characterization for beaked whales is to genus level only. Uncertainty regarding species identification of beaked whales often exists because of a lack of easily discernable or distinct physical characteristics.

Gervais' beaked whales are usually found individually or in small closely associated social groups. While diving, they use suction to feed mainly on cephalopods (e.g., squid), mysid shrimp, and small fish in deep water.

Females may become sexually mature at 15 feet (4.5 m). A sexually mature female will give birth to a single newborn calf that is about 7 feet (1.6-2.2 m) long and weighs about 176 pounds (80 kg). The estimated lifespan of this species is at least 27 years, but may be up to 48 years (Reeves et al. 2002).

Habitat

Gervais' beaked whales prefer deep tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean, but are occasionally found in colder temperate seas.

Distribution

Gervais' beaked whales are distributed throughout deep, warm waters of the central and north Atlantic Ocean. This species is thought to occur mostly north of the equator. Their range includes the English Channel, Europe, Canaries Islands, Western Africa, Brazil, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern north Atlantic (Jefferson et al. 2008). There are no known seasonal movements or migrations for this species.

Population Trends

The most recent stock assessment reports with population estimates are available on our website.

Threats

Gervais' beaked whales have been incidentally taken as bycatch in fishing gear, such as pound nets off the U.S. Atlantic coast and potentially in driftnets and gillnets. This species may be captured in the Caribbean Sea for food. This species of beaked whale may be sensitive to underwater sounds and anthropogenic noise. Anthropogenic noise levels in the world's oceans are an increasing habitat concern, particularly for deep-diving cetaceans like Gervais' beaked whales that use sound to feed, communicate, and navigate in the ocean.

Conservation Efforts

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Species This link is an external site. considers this species "Data Deficient" due to insufficient information on population status and trends.

Regulatory Overview

This species is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended.

Taxonomy

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Ziphiidae
Genus: Mesoplodon
Species: europaeus

Key Documents

(All documents are in PDF format.)
Title Federal Register Date
Stock Assessment Reports n/a various

More Information

References:

Updated: September 28, 2015