Cetacean Society International

Working for whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide

CSI Photo Gallery

Melon-headed Whale

(Peponocephala electra)

This fast swimming melon-headed whale shows the species' characteristic white lips and sloping forehead. Humans often confuse this small (9 feet / 2.75 m) species with pygmy killer whales, which have a more bulbous forehead, and false killer whales, which are much larger. All three species can be found in the same tropical pelagic waters, between 20°N to 20°S. This whale is well adapted to catching pelagic fish, squid and even crustaceans. (Photo courtesy Colin D. MacLeod, UK.)
Like all melon-headed whales this group of over 100 in the Bahamas is very gregarious. They may have been together for generations, but almost all we know has come from the species' tendency to mass strand. That alone suggests that they live in tightly bonded groups. Melon-headed whales are often found with Fraser's dolphins and less often with rough-toothed dolphins. Do these species just happen to come together while hunting the same prey, or are there other reasons for associating? (Photo courtesy Colin D. MacLeod, UK.)
Schools of over 1000 melon-headed whales are not unusual, but they actually are formed of many smaller, more stable units that seem to coordinate behaviors. Females are known to live over 30 years, which suggests that they may get to know each other very well. Perhaps the future will bring more evidence of group stability, including genetic diversity and kinship, as well as unique dialects and behaviors that help the core groups keep their associations and identity. (Photo courtesy Colin D. MacLeod, UK.)
Would you believe that less than ten years ago melon-headed whale were killed in the Solomon Islands just for their teeth? The reason they are not killed often in the infamous Japanese drive fisheries is because they don't taste good! If that is their main contact with humans it's no wonder that we know so little about their lives. But in other places people have been approached underwater by this species, and close-up studies are sure to follow. (Photo courtesy Colin D. MacLeod, UK.)