The unusual creatures known as Berardius bairdii, or more commonly called the Baird’s beaked whale, prefer the deeper waters of the open sea, which makes research and monitoring of these animals somewhat difficult.
This species of whale makes up one of over 20 known species of beaked whale.
Comparable in size to a school bus, these marine mammals posses a long list of unique characteristics.
Baird’s beaked whales actually resemble massive bottlenose dolphins.
The animals span 35 to 42 feet (10.7 to 12.8 meters) long and adult males may weight over 22,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms).
Females appear slightly heavier than the males, weighing over 24,000 pounds (11,000 kilograms).
These mammals have a long body, which increases in girth toward the middle.
They have broad foreheads, commonly referred to as melons.
Males generally have a broader, more prominent forehead.
The front portion of the head slopes into the long tubular beak.
Baird’s have a single blowhole on the back of the head.
A small dorsal fin lies toward the rear of the back.
They also have two flukes on the underside of its body that span the equivalent of about one-fourth of the animal’s body length and fit neatly into special depressions when swimming or diving.
The body color ranges from gray to dark brown on the dorsal side that fades to lighter hues toward the belly of the whale.
Some Baird’s have dusky white patches or solid coloration that spans from the underside of the throat to the umbilicus and down to the genital regions.
Autopsies reveal that Baird’s have the densest bones compared to other mammals and their abdominal cavity contains 13 stomachs.
These whales are one of two beaked species that have two pairs of teeth.
The lower, front jaw of the males have two large triangular-shaped teeth, or tusks, that extend out of the mouth and over the top jaw.
These teeth measure 3.5 to 4 inches in length.
Approximately seven to eight inches further back on either side of the jaw, the other pair of teeth appear and measure around two inches in height.
The secondary teeth do not erupt until later in the mammal’s life and often wear down by the time the whale reaches old age.
Researchers estimate that females have a lifespan of more than 50 years, while males may enjoy a ripe old age of 80.
Diet and Hunting Methods
They often descend to extreme depths of 3,300 to 10,000 feet (1,000 to 3,000 meters) in search of food and have the ability to remain submerged for up to 60 minutes.
Without a full set of teeth, the Baird’s use suction for retrieving food and isn’t likely to use to teeth to grab or tear apart its prey.
Because these whales are part of the toothed whale family and hunt for food at such extreme depths they use echolocation to help the navigate the pitch black ocean and locate potential prey.
These mammals maintain an extremely social pod structure, existing in groups ranging in size from three to 30 whales in each pod.
When seen, the animals often expel water, swim, dive and surface in unison.
They have also been observed breaching the water collectively where they expose 40% – 90% of their body above the waters surface before re-initiating contact with the ocean and causing a huge splash.
Reproduction and Lifespan
The average gestation term for these whales is unknown however it is estimated that female whales give birth after a 12 – 17 month pregnancy.
Birth typically occurs in the middle of the spring when water temperatures rise.
Males reach sexual maturity when they acquire lengths of 32 to 36 feet (10 to 11 meters) or roughly between the ages of 6 – 11.
Females mature when they reach lengths of 32 to 34 feet (10 to 10.3 meters) or between 10 – 15 years of age.
Studies suggest that females give birth to live young once every three years.
At the time of giving birth the female will give birth to a child that measures between 14 – 16 ft. long on average.
The scarring patterns found on stranded whales indicate that males commonly engage in battle, presumably during the mating season.
Habitat and Migration
These animals prefer the cool waters of the Northern Pacific from California to the Bering Sea and in the waters around Japan at depths of at least 3,300 ft or more.
Migratory patterns suggest that warmer waters during the summer and autumn bring the Baird’s whales closer to the coastal regions.
While these marine mammals migrate seasonally their migration trips are much shorter than other species of whale.
Little is known about their winter habitat or specific migration patterns.
The Japanese fishing industry kills somewhere around 70 whales annually for their meat.
Chemical and noise pollution hinder the population.
Tissue samples taken from hunted whales indicate mercury levels averaging 1.64 part per million, which far exceeds the acceptable levels of 0.4 parts per million.
Oil prospecting, shipping vessels and sonar testing performed by naval units wreaks havoc with the echolocation used by Baird’s whales.
Autopsies completed on beached whales indicate signs of trauma in the head region in addition to exhibiting internal hemorrhaging caused by the condition known as the bends.
Although rare the killer whale is known to occasionally hunt Baird’s beaked whale when other sources of easy prey are unavailable or difficult to locate.
It isn’t well known as to whether or not they are attacked by sharks, however some beaked whales carcasses have been found being consumed by hungry sharks.
No other known predators exist other than poachers and whalers that are known to occasionally hunt these marine mammals.