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Sowerby’s beaked whale

Mesoplodon bidens

Sowerby's beaked whale was the first of the beaked whales to be discovered after a stranding in the Moray Firth in 1800.

Other names: North Sea beaked whale, North Atlantic beaked whale

beaked whale illustration
Male Female Calf
Maximum length 5.5m 5.1m 2.4m
Maximum weight 1,300kg 1,300kg Unknown

IUCN conservation status: Least Concern

What do Sowerby’s beaked whales look like?

Sowerby’s beaked whales have a long, slender beak resembling a dolphin's, and in fact are more dolphin-like than other beaked whales. They have a spindle-shaped body which is dark bluish-grey in colour, with a sandy colouration on the head and beak from which a pair of teeth ‘erupt’ midway along the beak in adult males. Their underside is lighter, especially in young animals, with grey or white spots, and the dorsal fin is small and curved with a rounded tip. Compared to other species of beaked whale their flippers are relatively long and thin.

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

Although they are one of the most commonly stranded of beaked whales relatively little is known about their behaviour. They are seldom seen at sea, and when they are, can dive for extended periods of time. They are however, known to bring their heads out of the water at a steep angle when surfacing and have been seen tail-slapping, breaching and spy-hopping. Strandings of up to six individuals have been recorded and when alive, group sizes range from three up to ten individuals.

Where do Sowerby’s beaked whales live?

Sowerby's beaked whales have one of the most northerly distributions of all the beaked whales and are found predominantly in the eastern North Atlantic. Sightings and strandings have been made in the seas around Norway, the UK and Iceland, and in the western North Atlantic off of Canada and Massachusetts, USA.

What do Sowerby’s beaked whales eat?

Like other beaked whales and other deep divers, they feed primarily on squid and small fish, including Atlantic cod.

Distribution map

Sowerby's beaked whale distribution map

Sowerby's beaked whale

The main threats...

  • Noise pollution – Sowerby’s beaked whales are vulnerable to naval sonar and seismic activity.
  • Whaling – Individuals have been incidentally killed by whalers off the coast of Newfoundland, Iceland and the Barents Sea.
  • Bycatch – Entanglement in fishing gear is likely to be a threat to this deep-water species.
  • Plastic – stranded individuals of similar species have been found with plastic in their stomachs.


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