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Sowerby's beaked whale (on Faroese stamp)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Infraorder: Cetacea
Family: Ziphiidae
Subfamily: Hyperoodontinae
Genus: Mesoplodon
Gervais, 1850
Type species
Delphinus sowerbensis [1]
de Blainville, 1817

16, See text.

Mesoplodont whales are 16 species of toothed whale in the genus Mesoplodon, making it the largest genus in the cetacean order.[2] Two species were described as recently as 1991 (pygmy beaked whale) and 2002 (Perrin's beaked whale), and marine biologists predict the discovery of more species in the future.[3] A new species was described in 2021.[4] They are the most poorly known group of large mammals.[2] The generic name "mesoplodon" comes from the Greek meso- (middle) - hopla (arms) - odon (teeth), and may be translated as 'armed with a tooth in the centre of the jaw'.[3]

Physical description

The flank of a stranded whale, showing several round scars
Round scars from cookiecutter shark bites can be seen on the flank of this stranded Gray's beaked whale.

Mesoplodont beaked whales are small whales, 3.9 m (13 ft) (pygmy beaked whale) to 6.2 m (20 ft) (strap-toothed whale) in length,[3] even compared with closely related whales such as the bottlenose whales and giant beaked whales. The spindle-shaped body has a small dorsal fin and short and narrow flippers. The head is small and tapered and has a semicircular blow hole that is sometimes asymmetric. The beak, which vary in length between species, blends with the small melon without a crease.[3]

Sexual dimorphism is poorly known, but the females tend to be the same size or larger than males at least in some species.[3] The males typically have a bolder coloration and a unique dentition. The males of most species are covered in scars from the teeth of other males.

The lower jaw often forms a huge arch in some species, sometimes extending above the rostrum in a shape comparable to a playground slide. Every species has large (sometimes tusk-like) teeth of variable size, shape, and position.

Both sexes often have bites from cookie-cutter sharks. The dorsal fin is rather small and located between two-thirds and three-quarters down the back of the animal. Information on longevity and lactation is non-existent, and information on gestation is nearly so.



Most species are very rarely observed, and little is known about their behavior.[2] They are typically found in groups, possibly segregated between sexes. Some species are so uncommon, they have yet to be observed alive.[2] On the surface, they are typically very slow swimmers and do not make obvious blows. They have never been observed raising their flukes above the water. They are all very deep divers, and many feed entirely on squid.



The mesoplodonts are completely unknown as far as population estimates are concerned. They have been hunted occasionally by the Japanese, but never directly. They are also accidentally captured in drift nets. It is not known what effect this has on the population.



Longman's beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus, also known as the Indo-Pacific beaked whale or the tropical bottlenose whale) was originally assigned to Mesoplodon, but Joseph Curtis Moore placed it in its own genus, Indopacetus, a taxonomic assignment which has been followed by all researchers.[3]

Four extinct species of Mesoplodon are known, M. longirostris[6] M. posti,[7] M. slangkopi.[8] and M. tumidirostris.[9]




  1. ^ Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M., eds. (2005). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  2. ^ a b c d Pitman 2008, p. 721
  3. ^ a b c d e f Pitman 2008, Characters and Taxonomic Relationships, pp. 721–724
  4. ^ a b Carroll et al. 2021.
  5. ^ Dalebout et al. 2014
  6. ^ Bianucci, Giovanni (1997). "The Odontoceti (Mammalia, Cetacea) from Italian Pliocene. Systematics and phylogenesis of Delphinidae". Palaeontographia Italica.
  7. ^ Olivier Lambert and Stephen Louwye (2016). "A new early Pliocene species of Mesoplodon: a calibration mark for the radiation of this species-rich beaked whale genus". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 36 (2): e1055754. doi:10.1080/02724634.2015.1055754.
  8. ^ G. Bianucci, O. Lambert, and K. Post. 2007. A high diversity in fossil beaked whales (Mammalia, Odontoceti, Ziphiidae) recovered by trawling from the sea floor off South Africa. Geodiversitas 29(4):561-618
  9. ^ Miyazaki, N.; Hasegawa, Y. 1992: A new species of fossil beaked whale, Mesoplodon tumidirostris sp. nov. (Cetacea, Ziphiidae) from the Central North Pacific. Bulletin of the National Science Museum (A), 18: 167–174.


  • Dalebout, M. L.; Baker, C. S.; Steel, D.; Thompson, K.; Robertson, K. M.; Chivers, S. J.; Perrin, W. F.; Goonatilake, M.; Anderson, R. C.; Mead, J. G.; Potter, C. W.; Thompson, L.; Jupiter, D.; Yamada, T. K. (2014). "Mesoplodon hotaula: Resurrection of Mesoplodon hotaula Deraniyagala, 1963: A New Species of Beaked Whale in the tropical Indo-Pacific". Marine Mammal Science. 30 (3): 1081–1108. doi:10.1111/mms.12113. hdl:1957/51503.
  • Pitman, R. (2008). "Mesoplodont Whales (Mesoplodon spp.)". In Perrin, W. F.; Würsig, B.; Thewissen, J. G. M. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (2nd ed.). Academic Press. pp. 721–726. ISBN 978-0-12-373553-9.
  • Carroll, Emma L.; McGowen, Michael R.; McCarthy, Morgan L.; Marx, Felix G.; Aguilar, Natacha; Dalebout, Merel L.; Dreyer, Sascha; Gaggiotti, Oscar E.; Hansen, Sabine S.; van Helden, Anton; Onoufriou, Aubrie B.; Baird, Robin W.; Baker, C. Scott; Berrow, Simon; Cholewiak, Danielle; Claridge, Diane; Constantine, Rochelle; Davison, Nicholas J.; Eira, Catarina; Fordyce, R. Ewan; Gatesy, John; Hofmeyr, G. J. Greg; Martín, Vidal; Mead, James G.; Mignucci-Giannoni, Antonio A.; Morin, Phillip A.; Reyes, Cristel; Rogan, Emer; Rosso, Massimiliano; Silva, Mónica A.; Springer, Mark S.; Steel, Debbie; Olsen, Morten Tange (27 October 2021). "Speciation in the deep: genomics and morphology reveal a new species of beaked whale Mesoplodon eueu". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 288 (1961): 20211213. doi:10.1098/rspb.2021.1213. PMC 8548795. Retrieved 27 October 2021.