Kogia breviceps (de
English: Pygmy sperm whale
Spanish: Cachalote pigmeo
French: Cachalot pygmée
Kogia breviceps © Würtz-Artescienza (see "links")
Pygmy sperm whales are somewhat porpoise-like in body shape, and
robust, with a distinctive underslung jaw, not unlike sharks. They
have the shortest rostrum among cetaceans and the skull is markedly
asymmetrical. Pygmy sperm whales reach a maximum size of about 3.8
m total length and a body mass of 450 kg and are larger than dwarf
sperm whales. Colouration in adults is dark bluish grey to blackish
brown on the back with a light venter. On the side of the head,
between the eye and the flipper, there is often a crescent-shaped,
light-coloured mark often referred to as a "false gill".
Teeth are only found in the lower jaw and are very sharp and thin,
lacking enamel (McAlpine, 2002).
Although the two currently recognized Kogia species are not
so obvious to distinguish at sea by non-specialists , the morphological
evidence backed by recent genetic analyses confirm species-level
differences (Chivers et al. 2005). Duffield et al. (2003) even developed
a method to distinguish both species based on myoglobin and hemoglobin
While the precise distribution of the pygmy sperm whale is unknown
(Mcalpine, 2009), it is evidently an oceanic species that lives
mostly beyond the edge of the continental shelf in tropical and
temperate waters around the world. It ranges north to Nova Scotia,
the Azores, The Netherlands, Miyagi on the east coast of Honshu,
Hawaii, and northern Washington State. It ranges south to the Cape
Province, the Tasman Sea, Islas Juan Fernández, and Chile
(Rice, 1998), and Argentina (Bastida and Rodríguez, 2003).
It appears to be relatively common off the southeastern coast of
the USA and around southern Africa, south-eastern Australia, and
New Zealand (Carwardine, 1995).
Distribution of Kogia breviceps: deep
temperate, subtropical, and tropical waters beyond the
continental shelf (Taylor et al. 2008a; © IUCN; click
for larger map).
A total of 28 strandings were reported
for Europe until 1991 (Duguy, 1994). Further strandings were recorded
in Hawaii (Mazzuca et al. 1999), Sable Island, Nova Scotia (Lucas
and Hooker, 2000), Spain (Abollo et al. 1998), Veracruz, Mexico
(Delgado et al. 1998), Chile (Sanino and Yañez, 1997), France
(Duguy, 1991), Micronesia (Eldredge, 1991) and South Australia (Kemper
and Ling, 1991). There was a sighting off Vietnam (Smith et al.
It is unknown whether the populations are isolated (Carwardine,
1995). However, Martin and Heyning (1999) reported the cyamid amphipod
species Isocyamus kogiae Sedlak-Weinstein, 1992 for the first
time from a K. breviceps stranded in southern California,
extending the known range of this amphipod from Moreton Island,
Queensland, Australia, to the northeastern Pacific. This ectoparasite
suggests that pygmy sperm whales from both sides of the Pacific
are not isolated from each other.
3. Population size
In areas where they frequently strand, members of the genus Kogia
are considered to be one of the most common species to come ashore.
While many large males strand, many Kogia strandings also
consist of a female and small calf or a female that has given birth
only recently. However, as with K. sima, there are no real
estimates of abundance (Caldwell and Caldwell, 1989). Mcalpine (2009)
summarizes that neither population size or trend are known.
The best U.S. Atlantic abundance estimate for Kogia sp.,
395 (CV=0.40), stems from two 2004 surveys, where the estimate from
the northern U.S. Atlantic is 358 (CV=0.44), and from the southern
U.S. Atlantic is 37 (CV=0.75). This joint estimate is considered
the best because together these two surveys had the most complete
coverage of the species' habitat. A separate estimate of pygmy sperm
whale abundance could not be provided due to the uncertainty of
species identification at sea. Furthermore, the available information
was judged insufficient to evaluate trends in population size for
the western North Atlantic (Waring et al. 2007). Barlow (2006) estimates
that a total of 7,138 pygmy sperm whales are found in the outer
EEZ of Hawaii. Using corrections for missed animals, Ferguson and
Barlow (2001) re-estimated the abundance as approximately 150,000
of both species in the eastern tropical Pacific.
4. Biology and Behaviour
Habitat: K. breviceps seems to prefer warmer waters:
there are records from nearly all temperate, subtropical, and tropical
seas. It is rarely seen: it tends to live a long distance from shore
and has inconspicuous habits. It is often confused with the dwarf
sperm whale (K.
sima), with which it had been synonymized until Handley
in 1966 again recognised and re-described them as separate species.
With few field records, it was long uncertain whether the two can
be distinguished reliably except at very close range (Caldwell and
Caldwell and Caldwell (1989) suggested that K. breviceps
lives in oceanic waters beyond the edge of the continental shelf
while K. sima lives over or near the edge of the shelf. Wang
et al. (2002) compared the diet of both Kogia spp. off coastal
Taiwan and conclude that pygmy sperm whales fed on much larger cephalopods
such as Taonius pavo compared to those ingested by dwarf
sperm whales, while dwarf sperm whales ingested more Histioteuthis
miranda than did pygmy sperm whales. These results support the
view that pygmy sperm whales live seaward of the continental shelf
and that dwarf sperm whales live more in coastal waters, i.e. the
opposite of what Caldwell and Caldwell (1989) suggested.
However, this spatial segregation was not apparent in the study
of Mullin et al. (1994) who, by aerial observation, found both species
over water depths of 400-600m in the North-Central Gulf of Mexico.
These waters of the upper continental slope were also characterised
by high zooplankton biomass (Baumgartner et al. 2001).
Behaviour: When seen at sea, they generally appear slow
and sluggish, with no visible blow (Jefferson et al. 1993). K.
breviceps is said to be very easy to approach, lying quietly
at the surface practically until touched although it will not approach
boats by itself and is rather timid, slow moving and deliberate.
Like its congener, K. breviceps spends considerable time
lying motionless at the surface with the back of the head exposed
and the tail hanging down loosely. K. breviceps is reported to float
higher in the water with more of the head and back exposed than
K. sima (Caldwell and Caldwell, 1989). Dive times of up to
18 minutes were recorded from a rehabilitated animal, although most
dive durations are shorter (Scott et al. 2001).
Schooling: Most sightings of pygmy sperm whales around Hawaii
were of single individuals (Barlow, 2006), but Mcalpine (2009) summarizes
that group size ranges between 1-6.
Food: Studies of feeding habits, based on stomach contents
of stranded animals, suggest that this species feeds in deep water
on cephalopods and, less often, on deep-sea fishes and shrimps (Caldwell
and Caldwell, 1989; Jefferson et al. 1993; Santos and Haimovici,
Beatson (2007) investigated the stomach contents of pygmy sperm
whales stranded on New Zealand beaches between 1991 and 2003. The
diet was found to include fish and crustaceans, but is comprised
primarily by 23 species of cephalopods, dominated by juvenile individuals
of the families Histioteuthididae and Cranchiidae.
Stranding data of both Kogiidae do not seem to bear out any strong
seasonal changes in distribution nor any migrations, although some
writers have suggested such in very general terms (Caldwell and
Caldwel, 1989). Duguy (1994) suggests that the species may migrate
from the coast to the open sea in summer, since most strandings
e.g. in Florida occurred during winter and fall. In Europe, there
are more strandings in winter, which supports this hypothesis: Mcalpine
(2009) remarks that in the NE Atlantic, most strandings occur in
autumn and winter.
Direct catch: Pygmy sperm whales have never been hunted
commercially. Small numbers have been taken in coastal whaling operations
off Japan and Indonesia (Jefferson et al. 1993).
Incidental catch: A few have been killed in Sri Lanka's gillnet
fisheries, and it is likely they are killed in gillnets elsewhere
as well (Jefferson et al. 1993). Perez et al. (2001) report on occasional
by-catches in fisheries in the north-east Atlantic. Waring et al.
(2007) summarize that total annual estimated average fishery-related
mortality and serious injury to this stock in the Western North
Atlantic during 1999-2003 was 6 (CV=1.0) Kogia sp. Total fishery-related
mortality and serious injury for this stock is not less than 10%
of the calculated Potential Biological Removal (PBR = 2 in the western
North Atlantic) and therefore, cannot be considered to be insignificant
and approaching zero mortality and serious injury rate. This is
a strategic stock because the 1999-2003 estimated average annual
fishery-related mortality to pygmy sperm whales exceeds PBR.
Pollution: Watanabe et al. (2000) present data on organic
pollutants found in small cetaceans stranded on the coast of Florida
and Marcovecchio et al. (1994) summarise the available knowledge
on environmental contamination in marine mammals off Argentina.
However, Bustamente et al. (2005) analysed 12 trace elements (Al,
Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Fe, organic and total Hg, Mn, Ni, Se, V, and Zn)
in two stranded specimens and conclude that trace elements in whales
on New Caledonia beaches, South Pacific, are below levels for concern.
Tarpley and Marwitz (1993) report on a young male pygmy sperm whale
stranded alive on Galveston Island, Texas, USA, which died in a
holding tank 11 days later. During necropsy, the first two stomach
compartments (forestomach and fundic chamber) were found to be completely
occluded by various plastic bags. Gastro-Intestinal blockage and
subsequent death caused by plastic debris has also recently been
documented by Stamper et al. (2006). Waring et al. (2007) also list
that remains of plastic bags and other marine debris have been retrieved
from the stomachs of 13 stranded pygmy sperm whales in the southeastern
Noise: Two pygmy sperm whales stranded in the Outer Banks,
North Carolina, between 15 and 16 January 2005. Coincident with
the stranding, one US Navy vessel was known to have used sonar for
seven minutes about 90 nautical miles southeast of the stranding
area (Kaufman, 2005, in Parsons, 2008).
Known and hypothetical Range States (Taylor et al. 2008a) :
American Samoa; Angola; Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina;
Aruba; Australia (Tasmania); Bahamas; Bangladesh; Barbados; Belize;
Benin; Bermuda; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia; Cameroon; Canada
(Nova Scotia); Cape Verde; Cayman Islands; Chile (Juan Fernández
Is.); China; Colombia; Comoros; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic
of the; Cook Islands; Costa Rica; Côte d'Ivoire; Cuba; Denmark;
Djibouti; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Equatorial
Guinea; Fiji; France; French Guiana; French Polynesia; Gabon; Gambia;
Germany; Ghana; Gibraltar; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guam; Guatemala;
Guernsey; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Hong Kong;
India; Indonesia; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Ireland; Isle of Man;
Jamaica; Japan (Honshu); Jersey; Kenya; Kiribati; Liberia; Madagascar;
Malaysia; Maldives; Marshall Islands; Martinique; Mauritania; Mexico;
Micronesia, Federated States of; Morocco; Mozambique; Myanmar; Namibia;
Nauru; Netherlands; Netherlands Antilles; New Caledonia; New Zealand;
Nicaragua; Nigeria; Niue; Northern Mariana Islands; Oman; Pakistan;
Palau; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Peru; Philippines; Pitcairn; Portugal
(Azores); Puerto Rico; Réunion; Saint Helena; Saint Kitts
and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Pierre and Miquelon; Saint Vincent
and the Grenadines; Samoa; Sao Tomé and Principe; Senegal;
Sierra Leone; Singapore; Solomon Islands; Somalia; South Africa
(Eastern Cape Province, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape Province, Western
Cape Province); Spain; Sri Lanka; Suriname; Taiwan, Province of
China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Timor-Leste; Togo;
Tonga; Trinidad and Tobago; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom;
United States of America (Hawaiian Is., Washington); Venezuela;
Viet Nam; Virgin Islands, British; Virgin Islands, U.S.; Western
Classified as "Data deficient" by the IUCN. Not listed
by CMS. Listed in Appendix II of CITES.
This species is insufficiently known with respect to all aspects
of its biology and potential threats. Collection of by-catch and
sighting data is strongly needed. For recommendations on Southeast
Asian stocks, see Perrin et al. (1996 in Appendix
Please see account on Kogia
© Boris Culik (2010) Odontocetes.
The toothed whales: "Kogia breviceps". UNEP/CMS
Secretariat, Bonn, Germany. http://www.cms.int/reports/small_cetaceans/index.htm
© Illustrations by Maurizio Würtz, Artescienza.
© Maps by IUCN.