Ziphius cavirostris

Cuvier, 1823 - Cuvier's beaked whale

Distinctive Characteristics

Cuvier's beaked whales are relatively robust, as beaked whales go. They have a short, poorly defined beak, and a mouthline that is upcurved at the rear. A pair of V-shaped throat grooves is present. A diagnostic feature is the slight concavity on the top of the head, which becomes increasingly more noticeable in older animals. A fluke notch is sometimes present. The dorsal fin is small and falcate, and is set about two-thirds of the way back from the snout tip.

The body is dark grey to light rusty brown, with lighter areas around the head and belly. The head and much of the back of adult males can be completely white. Generally, adults are covered with light scratches and circular marks.

There is a single pair of forward-pointing conical teeth at the tip of the lower jaw; they generally erupt only in adult males and are exposed outside the closed mouth in large bulls.

Can be confused with

This species is most likely to be confused with other beaked whales, especially species of Mesoplodon. The robust body, blunt head, and lighter coloration (especially around the head, and in adult males) may be sufficient to distinguish Cuvier's beaked whales, if seen. Whales of the genera Hyperoodon and Berardius are larger and have more bulbous foreheads and long tube-like snouts.


Length at birth is about 2.7 m; adults reach 7.5 m (males) and 7 m (females). Maximum recorded weight is nearly 3000 kg.

Geographical Distribution

Cuvier's beaked whales are widely distributed in offshore waters of all oceans, from the tropics to the polar regions. They may have the most extensive range of any beaked whale species, and are fairly common in certain areas, such as the eastern tropical Pacific.

Biology and Behaviour

This species tends to be rather inconspicuous in its behaviour. Dives of up to 40 minutes have been documented. Cuvier's beaked whales are found mostly in small groups of 2 to 7, but are not uncommonly seen alone.

Seasonality of calving is not known in this species.

Cuvier's beaked whales, like all beaked whales, appear to prefer deep water; they feed mostly on deep sea squid, but also take fish and some crustaceans.


There have been no major fisheries for this species, although small numbers have been taken deliberately in Japan, the Lesser Antilles, and the Mediterranean, and incidentally elsewhere.

IUCN Status

Insufficiently known.