Gray’s beaked whale is a medium size toothed whale that can be found living in the cool waters of the southern hemisphere.
In addition to being known as Gray’s beaked whale this marine mammal may also be referred to as Haast’s beaked whale, the Scamperdown whale or the southern beaked whale.
The name Gray’s beaked whale came from John Edward Gray who was a zoologist that was responsible for naming numerous species of cetacea.
As a species Gray’s beaked whale whale makes up one of around 80 known cetaceans, which includes marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises; and belongs to one of over 20 known species of beaked whale.
Unlike other species of beaked whales these whales tend to exhibit a larger and more complete social structure as stranding’s and beaching’s have shown fairly large numbers of these whales gathered together.
Physical Characteristics and Appearance
As the name suggest this whale is named partially because of its beak shaped mouth.
When it comes to size Gray’s beaked whale is known to reach an average size of 16 – 22 ft. long and weigh 2400 lbs. or more when fully grown.
They have long streamlined bodies and a long thin beak, which becomes white as the whale ages.
When the male beaked whales become fully matured a pair of triangular shaped teeth can be seen exposed from the lower jaw.
In females the teeth are typically short and below the visible gum line.
Both sexes however do have a row of teeth in their upper jaw that are non functional in nature, therefore the purpose of their teeth isn’t fully understood.
Like other beaked whales Gray’s beaked whale has a small triangle dorsal fin located about 2/3 down its back.
The fins are also fairly small compared to other species of whale.
In terms of skin color these whales have a gray skin tone that darkens as it ages with white patches located along its belly and sides.
Diet and Hunting Methods
Although these whales have teeth it is unlikely that their teeth play a role in their ability to obtain food as males only have one pair of visible teeth and females generally don’t have any visible teeth.
While both male and female whales have a row of small teeth in their upper jaw they are considered non functional, so it is likely that Gray’s beaked whale swallows its prey whole.
Because these marine mammals belong to the toothed whale family echolocation may play a role in their ability to hunt and locate potential prey.
Habitat and Migration
These whales are typically found traveling in cooler waters throughout the southern hemisphere.
As a species they tend to prefer living in offshore waters that are far from the coastline, however some observations have been made of whales swimming closer to the shore.
These observations of inshore whales are believed to be of sick or injured whales that are likely to end up beached or stranded on the shore.
Spotting’s and stranding’s of Gray’s beaked whale have occurred in South Africa, Argentina, southern Australia, Chile, New Zealand and Peru among other areas of the southern hemisphere.
It is assumed that most of these whales can be found inhibiting waters that are between 30 – 45 degrees south of the equator.
Social Structure and Communication
Gray’s beaked whale is a rarely observed marine mammal therefore data regarding the social structure of this species is extremely scarce.
Most of what is known about their social structure has been gathered from observations of stranded whales.
Due to mass stranding’s it is believed that these whales may form large pods and social groups.
Common stranding’s have involved beaching’s of 5 – 10 whales with one large stranding involving 28 beaked whales.
Scars found on the bodies of beached whales also suggests that they may have a dominant hierarchy and males may compete with one another for sexual selection and/or status.
Reproduction and Lifespan
Unfortunately no solid information exists on the gestation period, breeding habits, sexual maturity and lifespan of these whales.
In general whales are known to have an average gestation period of 11 – 17 months depending on the whales species.
Various whale species can also have a large variation in terms of sexual maturity with whales reaching sexual maturity anywhere from 5 – 15 years of age or more.
Lastly the average lifespan of a beaked whale can range from 25 – 50 years, however the average lifespan of Gray’s beaked whale is currently unknown.
Note: The estimates regarding the gestation period and age of sexual maturity are based on the entire whale species and may/may not reflect the actual gestation period/maturity age of Gray’s beaked whale.
For additional information regarding the gestation period, reproduction habits and lifespan of various whale species read:
Gray’s beaked whale isn’t known to face many threats.
These marine mammals may face occasional threats from collisions with ships or large boats and may get caught in fish nets and other fishing gear that can cause drowning.
More commonly loud man-made acoustic sounds are becoming a concern as numerous beaked whales have been observed beaching themselves after extensive sonar use.
Loud explosions, acoustic noises, jet engines and other unnatural sounds may interfere with the whales ability to use echolocation, communicate with other whales and navigate the ocean.
These sounds may also cause disorientation and even lead to brain hemorrhaging.
Researchers and biologists are also concerned that numerous whale species may end up surfacing too quickly from a deep dive which can cause all sorts of issues with the body and even lead to death from fast and unnatural decompression.
No substantial evidence exists regarding whether or not they are frequently attacked by killer whales, sharks or other predators, however oval scaring on the body of some observed whales shows that they may be preyed upon by cookie cutter sharks.