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Shepherd’s beaked whale

Tasmacetus shepherdi

The Shepherd's beaked whale is the only species of beaked whale to have a full set of functional teeth in both jaws and the adult male has a larger pair of tusks that ‘erupt’ at the tip of the lower jaw.

The external appearance of Shepherd’s beaked whales was only described in detail in 2006.

Other names: Tasman whale, Tasman beaked whale

beaked whale illustration
Male Female Calf
Maximum length 7.1m 6.6m 3.0m
Maximum weight Unknown Unknown Unknown

IUCN conservation status: Data Deficient

What do Shepherd’s beaked whales look like?

Shepherd’s beaked whales are one of the largest of all beaked whales. Their body is relatively slender and spindle-shaped with a small, falcate dorsal fin which sports a narrow, pointed tip and is set far back on the body. The colouration of a Shepherd’s beaked whale is very distinguishing. Dark grey brown or olive brown colouration extends from the back and well down the sides. A lighter patch above the flipper is surrounded by a dark shoulder band to the front and the dark flanks behind. The tailstock from just behind the dorsal fin almost to the flukes is a pale tan colour and the flukes are also brown. The throat and belly are creamy white, and a paler white patch is also present on the melon  (top and front of the head), which is steep and rounded, yet narrow, and becomes more well developed in older individuals. They also have a very prominent beak with a slender, straight mouthline and as with all beaked whales, throat grooves are present.

What's life like for Shepherd’s beaked whales? 

Almost nothing is known about the behaviour of Shepherd's beaked whales. Analysis of stomach contents suggests that it is unique amongst beaked whales with a preference for several species of fish and crabs. This may explain the presence of a full set of functional teeth.

Where do Shepherd’s beaked whales live?

The Shepherd's beaked whale is thought to be found in deep offshore waters in a circumpolar band in cold temperate waters of the southern hemisphere from 33°S to 50°S.

What do Shepherd’s beaked whales eat?

Unlike other beaked whales, as opposed to feeding almost exclusively on squid and other cephalopods, Shepherd’s beaked whales are also known to feed on several species of fish and crabs.

Distribution map

Shepherd's beaked whale distribution map

Shepherd's beaked whales need your help

The main threats...

  • Noise pollution – Shepherd's beaked whales are vulnerable to naval sonar and seismic activity.
  • Plastic – stranded individuals have been found with plastic in their stomachs.

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