Dwarf sperm whale

Pint-sized whales of pure perfection, dwarf sperm whales are small yet totally mighty.

Even smaller than several species of dolphins, dwarf sperm whales are gorgeous little whales closely related to pygmy sperm whales. Thought to include two separate species, the Atlantic dwarf sperm whale and the Indo-Pacific dwarf sperm whale, these whales are reserved beings who carry an air of mystery.

Other names: Owen's pygmy sperm whale

Dwarf sperm whale illustration
Male Female Calf
Maximum length 2.5m 2.7m 1m
Maximum weight 272kg Unknown Unknown

IUCN conservation status: Data Deficient

What do dwarf sperm whales look like?

At sea, it’s really difficult to tell pygmy sperm whales and dwarf sperm whales apart, but there are some tell-tale differences. Compared to their cousins, dwarf sperm whales have a more pointed snout giving their heads an almost conical look. Punctuated with a single blowhole set slightly askew on the left side, their heads merge with flatter backs than their pygmy counterparts. Slightly smaller in size, they also have a little, underslung jaw with long, curved teeth.

In sync with the ocean’s deep and complex palate, dwarf sperm whales have varied skin tones ranging from dark blues to rich olive browns on their dorsal side, with paler, pinkish bellies. Flashing whitish patches above their eyes, they also have false gills on their side reminiscent of sharks. Adding further confusion, dwarf sperm whales have taller, more pointed dorsal fins than pygmy sperm whales that can sometime be mistaken for those of bottlenose dolphins.

What is life like for dwarf sperm whales?

Taking life slow and steady in groups of 10 or fewer, dwarf sperm whales go at their own pace. Careful, considered swimmers, they can sometimes be spotted floating motionless on the surface of the water, basking in the sunshine. Suggested to float lower in the water than pygmy sperm whales, dwarf sperm whales don’t feel the need to approach boats but will sometimes tolerate their respectful presence.

When they are ready to submerge themselves once again, dwarf sperm whales (like pygmies) simply drift back under the water as slowly and quietly as they came. Preferring to move steadily, they generally only dive when startled, and on doing so will release a cloud of reddish-brown intestinal fluid. This could either be a nervous reaction or a defence mechanism, much like that of a squid.

It is not known what the total population of dwarf sperm whales is.

What do dwarf sperm whales eat?

Dwarf sperm whales like to feed at depth and, therefore, their predominant prey are deep-water squid, crustaceans, fish and octopus.

Where do dwarf sperm whales live?

Like the pygmy sperm whale, dwarf sperm whales languish in tropical and temperate zones of all the world's oceans, with a particular penchant for the warm waters off the southern tip of South Africa and the Gulf of California. With a preference for deeper water, the edges of continental shelves are thought to be ideal grounds for dwarf sperm whales.

Distribution map

Dwarf sperm whale distribution map

Dwarf sperm whales need your help

The main threats...

  • Pollution – dwarf sperm whales need a healthy ocean to thrive. Toxic chemicals, plastics, litter and oil spills all cause enormous damage to the marine environment.
  • Fishing gear – dwarf sperm whales can get accidentally caught in fishing nets and lines, injuring or even killing them.

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