Melon-headed whale

Peponocephala electra
Other names: 
  • Little killer whale
  • Many-toothed blackfish
  • Electra dolphin
Maximum length: 
  • Male: 2.65m
  • Female: 2.75m
  • Calf: 1m
Maximum weight: 
  • Male: 275 kg
  • Female: Unknown
  • Calf: 15 kg
  • Small fish
  • Squid
  • Shrimp
Estimated population: 
IUCN Listing: 
CITES Appendix: 
CMS Appendix: 
Not Listed

The melon-headed whale is actually a member of the dolphin family. They are usually found far offshore beyond the continental shelf and only come close to shore when the surrounding waters are deep. Very little is known about them except from a few places where they are commonly encountered - the Philippines and Hawaii - and from stranding records.


The melon-headed whale is small and slim with a torpedo shaped body. The head is conical and blunt-tipped with no apparent beak. It has a falcate dorsal fin, sharply pointed flippers, and broad flukes. Some adult males develop a pronounced ventral keel. Its body is a dark grey with a darker cape that dips low below the dorsal fin, and sometimes a pale patch on the belly. White markings around the mouth give the appearance of lips, and dark facial markings around the eyes sometimes give it the appearance of wearing a 'mask'. It is often confused with the pygmy killer whale, though it has sharper pointed flippers and a more triangular head. It may also be confused with the false killer whale, which is much larger.


Melon-headed whales are extremely social creatures, swimming in tightly packed herds of 100-500 animals, although they sometimes gather in their thousands. The species is generally shy of boats, but is known to bow-ride in areas where it is not harassed, and can be extremely demonstrative when it is not disturbed. They can sometimes be seen ‘porpoising' with much splashing, disguising most of their features. In the wild they often associate with other species including Fraser's, rough-toothed, spinner, spotted, and bottlenose dolphins. Average life-span of a melon-headed whale is known to be at least 20 for males, whilst females can live into their 30's.


Melon-headed whales are amongst the most common species reported to mass strand. The most recent mass stranding of this species was in Madagascar in 2008 where over 50 animals got trapped in a shallow bay and died. The cause of the stranding is unknown but thought to be linked to seismic surveying being undertaken in the area just prior to the stranding. Melon-headed whales are found in deep sub-tropical waters all over the world, generally out past the continental shelf, and they are often seen around the Philippines and other tropical archipelagos. The predominant threats to melon-headed whales are hunting and entanglement in fishing nets; however IUCN lists the species as of Least Concern even though there are very few available abundance estimates for this species throughout its range.

Distribution map: