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Baird’s Beaked Whale (Berardius bairdii)

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Baird’s beaked whales, sometimes called “giant bottlenose whales,” are the largest members of the beaked whale family (Ziphiidae). Females reach lengths of about 40 feet (13 m), while males are slightly smaller at about 35 feet (11.5 m). As adults, Baird’s beaked whales can weigh approximately 26,400 pounds (12,000 kg). Females may mature slower and have a considerably shorter lifespan than males, 54 to 84 years, respectively.

Baird’s beaked whales have a large, long, robust body with a relatively small, rounded, triangular dorsal fin that is located far down (about two-thirds) the animal’s back. The whale’s head is curved with a bulbous “melon” (forehead); a distinct, long, cylindrical beak; a curved mouth line; and a crescent-shaped blowhole. Adults of both sexes have two, relatively small, but visible protruding teeth on the front of their lower jaw, which extends beyond the upper jaw. Their pectoral flippers are short, round, untapered, and fold against the body. Baird’s beaked whales’ bodies generally appear a mottled grayish and/or brownish in color, and the ventral side may be paler with random white patches. Males may seem lighter due to heavy scarring. Adult males scratch and rake one another using their small front teeth leaving visible grey/white linear scars along their body. Predation from killer whales may also be responsible for some of these scars. Other coloration may be the result of whale lice infestation and “diatoms” on the skin’s surface. While at the ocean surface, Baird’s beaked whales can be seen producing bushy blows that are visible from a significant distance.

Many species of beaked whales (especially those in the genus Mesoplodon) are very difficult to distinguish from one another (even when dead). At sea they are challenging to observe and identify to the species level due to their cryptic, skittish behavior, a low profile, and a small, inconspicuous blow at the waters surface; therefore, much of the available characterization for beaked whales is to genus level only. Uncertainty regarding species identification of beaked whales often exists because of a lack of easily discernable or apparent physical characteristics.

Baird’s beaked whales are usually found in tight social groups (schools or pods) averaging between 2-20 individuals, but have been occasionally seen in larger groups of up to 50 animals. Like other beaked whales, Baird’s beaked whales are deep divers. Regular dives range from 11-30 minutes, commonly reaching depths of 3,300 feet (1,000 m). However, Baird’s beaked whales could be capable of diving as far down as 9,840 feet (3,000 m) and may hold their breath for an hour or longer (max at least 67 minutes). While diving, they generally feed between depths of 2,500-4,000 feet (800-1,200 m) on deep-sea and “pelagic” fish (e.g., mackerel, sardines, and saury), crustaceans, sea cucumbers as well as cephalopods (e.g., squid and octopus). When at the surface, they will remain logging (resting), continuously blowing, breaching, or displaying various other behaviors between dives for as long as 14 minutes.

Baird’s beaked whales reach sexual maturity at 10-15 years for females and 6-11 years for males. A sexually mature female or cow will give birth to a single calf that is about 15 feet (4.6 m) in length, usually between the months of March and April after an estimated gestation period of 12-17 months. Females calve every 3 or more years.

This species is classified as DATE INCOMPLETE according to the IUCN's Red List.
This species is classified as DATE INCOMPLETE according to the IUCN’s Red List.

Status

MMPA Depleted – population
MMPA – all populations
CITES Appendix II – all populations

Species Description

Weight:
over 26,000 pounds (12,000 kg)
Length:
35-40 feet (about 12 m)
Appearance:
mottled grayish and/or brownish with paler belly, and with random white patches
Lifespan:
54-84 years, with males living longer than females
Diet:
fish like mackerel, sardines, and saury, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, and cephalopods like squid and octopus
Behavior:
social, deep-diving whales

RELATIVE SPECIES: Arnoux’s Beaked Whale

OTHER NAMES: Giant Bottlenose Whale

NEIGHBORING SPECIES: Cuvier’s, Stejneger’s and Hubb’s beaked whales

PREDATORS: Humans

THREATS: Commercial whaling, noise disturbance

DIET: Squid and deep sea fish

MANNER OF FEEDING: Suctioning

BEHAVIOR: Spyhopping, breaching, slapping the surface of water with flippers or fluke. Floating on the surface for long periods of time. Travel in groups of about 10. Males often fight one another and are covered in scars. Much more active at the surface than other beaked whales.

REPRODUCTION: Gestation lasts 10-17 months. Females give birth once every 3 years. Males mature much earlier and live longer than females.

LIFE SPAN: Females 54, Males 84

Habitat

Baird’s beaked whales prefer cold deep oceanic waters 3,300 feet (1,000 m) or greater, and may occur occasionally near shore along narrow continental shelves. This species is often associated with steep underwater geologic structures such as submarine canyons, seamounts, and continental slopes.

Distribution

Baird’s beaked whales occur throughout the North Pacific Ocean and adjacent seas (Bering Sea, Sea of Cortez, Sea of Japan, Okhotsk Sea, and occasionally in the Gulf of California), and can be found in U.S. waters off the West Coast from California to Alaska. In the eastern North Pacific, they can be found north of 28° N to the southern Bering Sea, and in the western North Pacific from 34° N to the Okhotsk Sea. They generally migrate seasonally due to the temperature of surface waters, and during summer and fall they are found in or near the waters of the continental slope. Between April and October, Baird’s beaked whales been observed in the nearshore waters of the Bering Sea and Okhotsk Sea. They will move farther offshore during winter and spring when sea temperatures have decreased. Little or nothing is known of this species’ wintering grounds. Because of the uncertainty regarding their migration patterns and variable distribution, the two stocks off the U.S. west coast may overlap.

Population Trends

In the U.S., recent stock assessment reports include population estimates. There is little information on the abundance of this species worldwide due to the rarity of sightings at sea. Thus, data are insufficient to estimate population trends.

Threats

Historically:

  • commercial whaling
    At least 4,000 Baird’s beaked whales were taken in the North Pacific, mainly from Japanese waters, though also by Russia, Canada, and the U.S.

Currently:

  • whaling, in Japan
  • incidental take as bycatch in the California/ Oregon drift gillnet fishery
  • Anthropogenic noise in the ocean
    Deep-diving cetaceans like Baird’s beaked whales use sound to feed, communicate, and navigate in the ocean.

Conservation Efforts

To reduce bycatch, we require the use of pingers and 6-fathom net extenders in the CA/OR drift gillnet fishery, as part of the  Pacific Offshore Cetacean Take Reduction Plan.

Regulatory Overview

This species is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 as amended.

Taxonomy

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Ziphiidae
Genus: Berardius
Species: bairdii

References:

  • Reeves, R. R., P. A. Folkens, et al. (2002). Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. New York, Alfred A. Knopf. p.261-263.
  • Jefferson, T. A, M. A. Webber, and R. L. Pitman. (2008). Marine Mammals of the World, A Comprehensive Guide to their Identification. Amsterdam, Elsevier. p. 93-95.
  • Kasuya, T. (2007). Japanese Whaling and Other Cetacean Fisheries. Environmental Science and Pollution Research International. January, 14 (1), p. 39-48.
  • Shirihai, H. and B. Jarrett (2006). Whales, Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals of the World. Princeton, Princeton University Press. p.112-114.

Cool/Gross/Weird:

  • Baird’s beaked whales get their name from Spencer F. Baird, who was a renowned naturalist in the late 1800s and the second secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Baird’s beaked whales are some of the most commonly sighted beaked whales within their specific range due to their gregarious behavior and large body size.
  • Stalked barnacles sometimes colonize the teeth of beaked whales, especially in older mature males.
  • Largest beaked whale, much more active than other beaked whales.
  • Still hunted regularly compared to other beaked whales.

-TSF-

 

 

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