Cuvier’s Beaked Whale ( Ziphius cavirostris )

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Ziphius cavirostris is a medium sized whale; the average body length is 6.4m (1), reaching a maximum of approximately 7m (2) (3). The females will usually be larger than the male. The body form is robust and slightly stouter than most ziphiids. The curved dorsal fin is small and falcate, and the flippers are also relatively small (1) (2). The head is small; around 10% of the body length (1), the rostrum is poorly defined and slopes gradually into the melon.

Adult males have two distinctive teeth that protrude from the lower jaw (4); extensive scarring is commonly seen on their sides which are the result of these teeth used when fighting for a mate (2) (4) (5).

The colouration of Z. cavirostris is variable, but adults will usually have a base colour between dark slate grey and rusty brown (4). The head is usually coloured white, particularly in the older males, and the neck and back also get lighter with age (2) (4).

Ziphius cavirostris is the only species within its genus and it is recorded as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List


Cuvier’s beaked whales are not usually solitary, although occasional single males have been observed (1); they are commonly found in pods of approximately 15 individuals. They are deep divers, plunging almost vertically (1) with dives of up to 40 minutes having been recorded (6). Z. cavirostris may breach, although it is thought to be rare (7), as they often avoid boats (1).

Life Cycle

Even though little data exists on the reproductive parameters of Cuvier’s beaked whale, it has been estimated that the length of calves at birth is usually 2-3m (8)Z. cavirostris becomes sexually mature when the females reach 5.8m and the males reach 5.5m. The gestation period is about twelve months, with the calves born in the late summer to early autumn (9). The life cycle of Cuvier’s beaked whale is thought to be about 25 years (10).


Similar to other cetaceans, Z. cavirostris has a preference for waters deeper than 200 metres and is commonly found in pelagic and deep slope habitats, with a preference for waters above submarine canyons (11).  Unless the continental shelf is narrow and steep, it is rarely seen close to the coast.


Ziphius cavirostris is distributed throughout all of the oceans, with the exception of the Polar Regions (8). The distribution of Cuvier’s beaked whale is mainly understood from standings data, and due to this, the total global population remains unknown. This is the only species of beaked whale commonly found within the Mediterranean Sea (12) (13).


There is no known migration pattern for Z. cavirostris (14).


Similar to other beaked whales, the diet of Z. cavirostris is thought to mainly consist of oceanic cephalopods such as squid and octopus (8). Most of the stomach content analysis shows evidence of open ocean, mesopelagic or deep-water benthic species – this agrees with the thought that Z. cavirostris is an offshore, deep diving species (15).

Conservation Status

List as Least concern under the IUCN Redlist (6).


Description written by Kathryn Woodward (2009)

(1) Lundrigan, B. and A. Myers. (2000) “Ziphius cavirostris” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 15, 2009 at

(2) Heyning, J.E. and Mead, J.G. (2008) Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris. In: Perrin, W.F., Würsig, B. and Thewissen, J.G.M. Eds. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, Second Edition. Academic Press, London.

(3) Jefferson, T.A., S. Leatherwood and M.A. Webber. (1993) FAO Species Identification Guide: Marine Mammals of the World. Rome, FAO. 320 p. + 587 figures.

(4) Carwardine, M., Hoyt, E., Fordyce, R.E. and Gill, P. (1998) Whales and Dolphins, The Ultimate Guide to Marine Mammals. Harper Collins Publishers, London

(5) Watson, L. 1981. Sea Guide to Whales of the World. London: Hutchinson and Co.

(6) Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L. 2008. Ziphius cavirostris. In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1. <>. Downloaded on15 July 2009.

(7) Carwardine M (1995) Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Dorling Kindersley, London, UK, 257 pp

(8) Santos, M.B. et al., 2001. Feeding ecology of Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris): a review with new information on the diet of this species. J.Mar. Biol. Ass. UK, 81, pp.687-94.

(9) Keet, A., n.d. Cuvier’s Beaked Whale – Ziphius cavirostris. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 16 July 2009].

(10) American Cetacean Society, 2004. American Cetacean Society Factsheet: Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 23 March 2009].

(11) Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., n.d. Cetacean species occuring in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 23 March 2009].

(12) Podesta, M. et al., 2006. A review of Cuvier’s beaked whale strandings in the Mediterranean Sea. J. Cetacean Res. Manage, 7(3), pp.251-61.

(13) Taylor, B.L. et al., 2008. Ziphius cavirostris. [Online] (2009.1) Available at: [Accessed 16 July 2009].

(14) Culik, B., 2003. Cuvier’s Beaked Whale. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 23 March 2009].

(15) Ohizumi, H. & Kishiro, T., 2003. Stomach contents of a Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) stranded on the central Pacific coast of Japan. Aquatic Mammals, 29, pp.99-103.