This whale gets its name from James Hector who was a founder of the colonial museum in New Zealand, hence the name “New Zealand Whale”.
In all there are over 80 – 90 known species of cetacea in existence today and Hector’s beaked whale is one of over 20 recorded species of beaked whale.
Hector’s beaked whale is one of the smallest whales within the beaked whale family with an average length of 10 – 14 ft. long and a weight of around 2,000 lbs.
Note: The smallest known whale among the entire cetacean species is the dwarf sperm whale which can reach lengths of around 9 ft. long and weigh between 400 – 600 lbs.
Although Hector’s beaked whale can be found swimming throughout the southern hemisphere the largest congregations are found in and around New Zealand.
While the endangered level of these whales is unknown rare spotting’s of these marine mammals suggest that they may be a naturally rare species.
Physical Characteristics and Appearance
As stated earlier when this marine mammal is fully grown Hector’s beaked whale can reach lengths of 10 – 14 ft. long and weigh 2,000 lbs. or more.
In terms of coloring these marine mammals have dark grey to brown skin on their upper body and a pale colored under-body.
Some whales may also have white spotting and scaring visible on their body.
When it comes to dentition male whales have a single protruding tooth on either side of their lower jaw, while the teeth remain hidden on the female whales.
As the name implies this whale has a small beak that it uses to capture food.
The body is widest in the middle and tappers down towards the ends near their flukes and head.
To assist with swimming Hector’s beaked whale has a small triangular-shaped dorsal fin that helps with stabilization during travel and their small streamlined flippers assist the whale with steering and turning while in the water.
Note: It is important to point out that information regarding the physical appearance and characteristics of this whale is based on a handful of observations and stranding’s so it’s possible that information such as their length and weight may exceed the information presented here.
Diet and Hunting Methods
Because live observations of these whales remain extremely rare most of our understanding about them and their diet comes from information collected through examinations done on beached whales.
As with other beaked whale species the lack of usable teeth makes it likely that these marine mammals stick to a diet of small, easily digestible prey and it is assumed that they swallow their prey whole.
Due to their deep diving behavior and the fact that they are part of the toothed whale suborder echolocation is likely used to help these marine mammals hunt for food and navigate through dark areas.
Habitat and Migration
Hector’s beaked whale can be found swimming throughout most of the southern hemisphere in cool waters that are between 35 – 55 degrees south of the equator.
These whales have been found swimming in locations such as the Falkland Islands, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and South America with the largest concentrations being spotted in New Zealand.
Insufficient data exists regarding whether or not these whales migrate and their overall population size remains unknown as observations of this species remain rare.
Social Structure and Communication
Due to a lack of research data and an inability to observe these whales on a regular basis not much is known about the social structure of these whales.
It is believed that they travel in pairs of 2 or in small groups and may display curiosity when approached by humans.
While unconfirmed scarring found on the bodies of these whales suggests that male whales may show signs of aggression during mating periods or use their teeth against other whales to assert their status among the hierarchy of a pod or group.
The fact that scarring is found more commonly on the bodies of the few examined males suggests that it is likely their aggressive behavior is the cause of some of their scarring and not just attacks made on them by potential predators.
Reproduction and Lifespan
When first born these marine mammals measure in at 6 – 6.5 ft. long.
As with other species of whale it is likely that these whales give birth to a single offspring and nurse their young with milk until the child is able to hunt and survive on its own.
Providing whale milk to a young infant is a common nursing behavior of mother whales and the thick nutrient milk provides baby whales with the proper nutrition they need to grow into healthy young whales.
Due to limited data the length of gestation, age of sexual maturity and lifespan of these whales is unknown.
No information exists regarding both natural and human threats towards these marine mammals.
Their rare status suggests that they are likely a naturally rare species which prevents them from being observed, captured or hunted by humans.
Their deep ocean habitat, small size and diving behavior also contributes to difficulty determining potential threats.
Unlike other whale species these marine mammals haven’t been hunted by whalers/poachers and aren’t known to have been captured in fishing nets/equipment.
They have only been observed from rare stranding’s/beaching’s.
When it comes to being prayed upon not much is known about their potential predators.
Due to their small size and wide distribution in the southern hemisphere it is possible that they may be hunted by large sharks which are known to prey on other beaked whale species.