Ziphius cavirostris G.
English: Cuvier´s beaked whale, Goosebeak whale
Spanish: Zifio de Cuvier, ballena picuda de Cuvier
French: Ziphius, baleine à bec de Cuvier
Ziphius cavirostris © Würtz-Artescienza
The general body shape of Z. cavirostris is similar to that
of other beaked whales: rather robust, cigar-shaped, small falcate
dorsal fin, relatively small flippers. The flippers can be tucked
into a slight depression along the body wall. The flukes are proportionately
large, as in other ziphiids. The head is rather blunt in profile
with a small, poorly defined rostrum that grades into the gently
sloping melon. Pigmentation is dark slate grey over most of the
body, with a distinctively white head in males and a slight lightening
of the skin in females. Light oval patches attributed to cookie-cutter
sharks (Isistius sp.) and linear marks due to intraspecific
fighting between males (which have two apical teeth) are common.
The largest adult male was 7m long (Heyning, 2002).
Cuvier's beaked whale is the most cosmopolitan of the beaked whales
and is found in all oceans except in the high polar waters (Heyning
and Mead, 2009). Rice (1998) includes all temperate and tropical
waters around the world, north to Massachusetts, the Shetland Islands,
the Mediterranean, Honshu, the Aleutian Islands, and the northern
Gulf of Alaska; south to Tierra del Fuego, Cape Province in South
Africa, Tasmania, South Island of New Zealand, and the Chatham Islands.
Distribution of Ziphius cavirostris: world-wide
distribution in tropical, subtropical, and
temperate waters (mod. from Taylor et al. 2008; © IUCN, enlarge
These whales are generally inconspicuous and uncommonly
seen at sea. They are known mainly from strandings (see Heyning,
1989, for a detailed list) and are found stranded more often than
most other beaked whales. In certain areas, such as the eastern
tropical Pacific they seem to be fairly common (Jefferson et al.
1993; Heyning, 1989), however, geographical variation has not been
analysed (Rice, 1998). For a detailed account on the Pacific islands
Region see Miller et al. (2007).
3. Population size
Abundance has been estimated by various authors and for several
study areas in the Pacific Ocean, compiled by Barlow et al. (2006).
In the eastern tropical Pacific, over 90,000 animals were estimated
from ship surveys conducted between 1986-1990. Other dive-corrected
estimates of Cuvier's beaked whale abundance include 1,884 off the
U.S. west coast (years 1996-2002) and 15,242 in Hawaiian waters
in 2002. In the Atlantic Ocean, US NE coast values are 25 (1978-82
surveys), US SE coast 348 (1998 survey), Gulf of Mexico 95 (1996-2001
survey). Waring et al. (2001) provide a stock assessment for all
beaked whales in the western North Atlantic including Z. cavirostris
and Mesoplodon spp. and come up with a minimum figure of
Dalebout et al. (2005) estimated rates of female migration among
ocean basins to be low (generally less than or equal to 2 individuals
per generation). Their results demonstrate a high degree of isolation
and low maternal gene flow among oceanic, and in some cases, regional
populations of Cuvier's beaked whales.
Taylor et al. (2008) conclude that Cuvier's beaked whales are among
the most common and abundant of all the beaked whales, and worldwide
abundance is likely to be well over 100,000. There is no information
on trends in the global abundance of this species.
4. Biology and Behaviour
Habitat. Off Japan, whaling records indicate that Z.
cavirostris is most commonly found in waters deeper than 1000m
(Heyning, 1989 and refs. therein). Z. cavirostris is known
around many oceanic islands, and relatively common in enclosed seas
such as the Mediterranean and Sea of Japan. It is rarely found close
to mainland shores, except in submarine canyons or in areas where
the continental shelf is narrow and coastal waters are deep (Carwardine,
1995) and is mostly a pelagic species which appears to be confined
by the 10°C isotherm (lower limit) and the 1000-m bathymetric
contour (Houston, 1991; Robineau and di Natale,1995).
Moulins et al. (2007) analysed sightings in the Pelagos Sanctuary
(north-western Mediterranean Sea) in order to define the favoured
habitat of the Cuvier's beaked whale. Forty-eight percent of beaked
whales were seen where the depth was between 756 and 1389 m but
the encounter rate was higher between depths of 1389 and 2021 m.
The sightings were more frequent (34%) where the sea floor slope
ranged 31-51 m/km but the encounter rate was higher where the sea
floor slope ranged 11 -31 m/km. The encounter rate for Cuvier's
beaked whales was higher where the depth anomaly was positive with
values between 342 and 586 m.
Photo © Heinrich Schatz / Earthviews @ MMS
Behaviour: Cuvier's beaked whales normally avoid boats but
are occasionally inquisitive and approachable, especially around
Hawaii. Breaching has been observed, though it is probably rare
Z. cavirostris hunt by echolocation in deep water between
222 and 1885 m, with average foraging dives and dive times reaching
1070 m and 58 min, respectively, higher values than reported for
any other air-breathing species. A series of shallower dives, containing
no indications of foraging, followed most deep foraging dives. The
average interval between deep foraging dives was 63 min. This long
an interval may be required for beaked whales to recover from an
oxygen debt accrued in the deep foraging dives, which last about
twice the estimated aerobic dive limit (Tyack et al. 2006). Baird
et al. (2006) somewhat expand these values and found Cuvier's beaked
whales in median depth of 2079 m reaching maximal dive depths of
1450m in dives regularly lasting 48-68 min.
Schooling: Cuvier's beaked whales are found mostly in small
groups of 2 to 7, but are not uncommonly seen alone (Jefferson et
al. 1993). Mc Sweeny et al. (2007) confirms that group sizes are
small and most groups have only a single adult male present. In
the NW Mediterranean mean herd size observed was 2.3 (range=1-11;
Moulins et al. 2007).
Food. Cuvier's beaked whales, like all beaked whales, feed
mostly on deep sea squid, but also take fish and some crustaceans
(Jefferson et al. 1993). MacLeod et al. (2003) compiled stomach
content data: 46 species of cephalopods from 15 families, and two
species of crustaceans, were reported from the stomachs of Z.
cavirostris. Eighty-seven per cent of the individuals contained
the remains of cephalopods, while 13% contained crustacean remains
and 8% contained the remains of fish. Blanco and Raga (2000) investigated
the stomach contents of two Cuvier's beaked whales stranded on the
western Mediterranean coast. Food consisted exclusively of hard
cephalopod remains, which agrees with their offshore and deep diving
behaviour. Nishiwaki and Oguro (1972) found that stomach contents
from Z. cavirostris caught off Japan varied consistently
with a predominance of squid from animals taken in waters slightly
under 1000m in depth, with fish being the most abundant prey item
found in animals taken in deeper waters. Z. cavirostris could
thus be somewhat opportunistic in its feeding habits. Most of the
prey items found were either open ocean, mesopelagic, or deep-water
benthic organisms, reflecting that Z. cavirostris is an offshore,
deep-diving species (Heyning, 1989).
Cuvier's beaked whales in the Canary Islands mainly feed of oceanic
cephalopods, the most numerous being Taonius pavo, Histioteuthis
sp., Mastigoteuthis schmidti and Octopoteuthis sicula.
Many of the cephalopod species found in the diet appear to undertake
diel vertical migrations, being found in shallower waters during
the night and moving to deeper waters during the day. Clearly, Z.
cavirostris in these waters specialises on cephalopods (Santos
et al. 2007).
Robineau and di Natale (1995) summarise that there are seasonal
differences in strandings recorded from the French coast with peaks
in winter and spring, whereas strandings in the Mediterranean seem
to peak in winter. MacLeod et al. (2004) found that strandings of
Cuvier's beaked whales occurred almost exclusively on the Atlantic
coasts of the UK and in Ireland. There were significantly more Cuvier's
beaked whale strandings than expected in January and February and
in June and July. A specimen which stranded in northern Scotland
in February contained similar prey to two whales stranded in northwestern
Spain at the same time of year, suggesting this animal could have
been feeding in more southern waters prior to stranding.
In the north-eastern Pacific from Alaska to Baja California, Mitchell
(1968) summarised the stranding record to date and found no obvious
pattern of seasonality to the strandings. Mc Sweeny et al. (2007)
used a 21-yr photographic data set from the west coast of the island
of Hawaii and found that resightings of individuals spanned 15 yr,
suggesting long-term site fidelity to the area. Long-term resightings
were documented primarily from adult females.
Direct catches: In the past, there have been a few small
cetacean fisheries that have taken Z. cavirostris. In the
bairdii fishery, Z. cavirostris have been taken on
an opportunistic basis with catches varying from 3 to 35 animals
taken yearly. Although the B. bairdii fishery still continues, there
have been no takes of Z. cavirostris in recent years (Heyning,
Incidental catches: Mignucci et al. (1999) conducted an
assessment of cetacean strandings in waters off Puerto Rico, the
United States and the British Virgin Islands to identify the factors
associated with reported mortality events between 1867 and 1995.
Cuvier's beaked whale were the second most commonly stranded species,
with an increase in the number of strandings averaging 63.1% per
year over 20 years. Between 1990 and 1995, the average number of
cases per year increased from 2.1 to 8.2. The seasonal pattern of
strandings was not found to be uniform, with a high number of strandings
occurring in the winter and spring. The most common human-related
cause categories observed were entanglement and accidental captures,
followed by animals being shot or speared. However, estimates for
the western North Atlantic are very low, with one animal reported
between 1994 and 1998 (Waring et al. 2001).
Occasional bycatches are reported from many areas, e.g. in artisanal
gillnet fisheries in Colombia (Mora-Pinto et al., 1995), Peru (Van
Waerebeek et al.,1988), St Vincent, Barbados (Caldwell et al., 1971),
Ghana (Van Waerebeek et al., 2009) and in the Italian swordfish
fishery (Notarbartolo di Sciara, 1990). , Baker et al. (2006) report
on Cuvier's beaked whales detected by molecular monitoring of 'whalemeat'
markets in the Republic of (South) Korea, assumed to be incidental
Pollution: Analysis of tissues from a male from New Zealand
found no traces of lead or organophosphates, but the following levels
of potential toxins were noted: DDE, 1.2-mg/kg; DDT, 1.2-mg/kg;
DDD, 0.25-mg/kg; and mercury, 1.9-mg/kg (Fordyce et al. 1979, in
Colin McLeod (2002, pers. comm.) reviewed stomach contents in beaked
whales and found that at least 50% of Cuvier's beaked whales stranding
on European coasts contain some plastic debris, while it is much
rarer in northern bottlenose whales and Mesoplodon species.
One possibility for this is that floating plastic sheets and bags
either at the surface or at depth will act as fish attractors, providing
shelter from predatory fish. Beaked whales being suction feed-ers
may then ingest the bag/plastic sheeting while 'hoovering' up actual
prey which are hanging around close to the floating debris. For
these suction feeders there would be little chance to "select"
prey based on taste or feel as it will be in the mouth and swallowed
before it is noticed.
Acoustic pollution: Frantzis (1998) found that a mass-stranding
of 12 Cuvier's beaked whales in the Ionian Sea (Mediterranean) coincided
closely in time and location with military tests of an acoustic
system for submarine detection being carried out by the North Atlantic
Treaty Organisation (NATO). The connection between military tests
and strandings is supported by the stranding of at least 12 specimens
during a naval exercise off The Bahamas in March 2000 (Waring et
al. 2001). Another seven Z. cavirostris died in September
2002 during a naval exercise conducted around Gran Canaria, Spain
(Vidal Martin, pers. comm.). High intensity Low Frequency Active
Sonar (LFAS) was used by US and NATO vessels in these areas, respectively,
which led to stranding of other species as well, including M.
densirostris. Finally, Arbelo et al. (2008) report on an
event in 2004 involving two stranded Cuvier beaked whales on the
coast of Almería, Southeast Spain in this series of strandings
caused by naval exercises.
According to K. Balcomb (NMFS, pers. comm.), NATO and the US Naval
Under-sea Warfare Center have calculated the resonance frequency
of airspaces in Cuvier's beaked whales to be about 290 Hz at 500
meters depth, which is almost precisely the middle frequency of
the sonar systems that were tested. Whale mortality during tests
could therefore be due to resonance phenomena in the whales' cranial
airspaces that are tearing apart delicate tissues around the brains
Degollada et al. (2003) performed necropsies on ten carcasses in
Gran Canaria between 24 and 72-h postmortem following standard procedures.
The most remarkable features were inner ear hemorrhages and edema
starting in the VIIIth cranial nerve and extending into the spiral
ganglion and the cochlear channels. In addition, inner ear structural
damages were found. These findings are consistent with the lesions
observed in other organs, in particular the brain, confirming an
acoustically induced trauma as the only non-discarded cause of death.
Seismic surveys have also been linked to stranding events. In 2002
two Cuvier's beaked whales stranded on Isla San Jose, in the Gulf
of California, at a time when the US National Science Foundation
was conducting seismic surveys from R/V Maurice Ewing. It is possible
that seismic surveys are also the causative factor for cetacean
strandings in other areas, such as the Galápagos Islands
(Parsons et al. 2007).
Known and inferred range states (Taylor, 2008):
Albania; American Samoa; Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina;
Aruba; Australia; Bahamas; Bangladesh; Barbados; Belize; Benin;
Bermuda; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia; Cameroon; Canada;
Cape Verde; Cayman Islands; Chile; China; Cocos (Keeling) Islands;
Colombia; Comoros; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the;
Cook Islands; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cuba; Côte d'Ivoire; Denmark;
Djibouti; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Equatorial
Guinea; Falkland Islands (Malvinas); Faroe Islands; Fiji; France;
French Guiana; French Polynesia; Gabon; Gambia; Germany; Ghana;
Gibraltar; Greece; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guam; Guatemala; Guinea;
Guinea-Bissau; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; India; Indonesia; Iran,
Islamic Republic of; Ireland; Italy; Jamaica; Japan; Kenya; Kiribati;
Korea, Republic of; Kuwait; Liberia; Madagascar; Malaysia; Maldives;
Marshall Islands; Martinique; Mauritania; Mexico; Micronesia, Federated
States of; Monaco; Morocco; Mozambique; Myanmar; Namibia; Nauru;
Netherlands; Netherlands Antilles; New Caledonia; New Zealand; Nicaragua;
Nigeria; Niue; Northern Mariana Islands; Norway; Oman; Pakistan;
Palau; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Peru; Philippines; Pitcairn; Portugal;
Puerto Rico; Russian Federation; Saint Helena; Saint Kitts and Nevis;
Saint Lucia; Saint Pierre and Miquelon; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines;
Samoa; Senegal; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Solomon Islands;
Somalia; South Africa; Spain; Sri Lanka; Sudan; Suriname; Sweden;
Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand;
Timor-Leste; Togo; Tonga; Trinidad and Tobago; United Kingdom; USA;
Uruguay; Vanuatu; Venezuela; Viet Nam; Virgin Islands, British;
Virgin Islands, U.S.; Wallis and Futuna; Western Sahara; Yemen
Listed by the IUCN as "Least concern" (Taylor et al.
2008) and listed in Appendix II of CITES. Not listed by CMS.
Very little is known about this species. However, mass strandings
after military sonar tests are a matter of concern and should be
further investigated. Due to a lack of abundance data, the effects
of by-catches in fisheries cannot be evaluated.
Z. cavirostris also occurs in southern South America, therefore
the recommendations iterated by the scientific committee of CMS
for small cetaceans in that area (Hucke-Gaete, 2000; Appendix
1) also apply. For recommendations concerning south-east Asian
stocks, see Perrin et al. (1996) in and Appendix
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© Illustrations by Maurizio Würtz, Artescienza.
© Maps by IUCN.