Baird’s beaked whale (Berardius bairdii)
|Also known as:||giant bottle-nosed whale, North Pacific bottlenose whale, northern four-toothed whale|
|French:||Baleine À Bec De Baird, Bérardien De Baird|
|Spanish:||Ballena De Pico De Baird, Zifio De Baird|
|Size||Average length: 10 m (2)|
Baird's beaked whale is classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
Baird’s beak whale (Berardius bairdii) is a deep-diving cetacean belonging to a group known as the ‘beaked whales’ due to their elongated beaks (4). The beaked whales are one of the most mysterious and least studied of all cetacean families (5).
Like other beaked whales, Baird’s beaked whale is characterized by the absence of all but one or two sets of lower teeth, called ‘battle teeth’ (6). These aptly-named teeth, which are present in both the adult male and female, are used in much the same way as tusks in male-male confrontations. As a result, scarring can often be seen on the whales’ flanks (6).
Baird’s beaked whale has dark brown upperparts, and a lighter underside mottled with unevenly dispersed white patches. It has a small dorsal fin situated two thirds of the way down the body, a crescent-shaped blowhole, and a melon-like forehead from which its slender beak projects (7).
Baird’s beaked whale occurs throughout the temperate North Pacific, from the southern Gulf of California in the east, to the Bering, Okhotsk and Japanese Seas in the west (1) (7).
Baird’s beaked whale favours deep ocean waters, between 1,000 and 3,000 metres in depth, where most of its prey can be found (1) (7).
Baird’s beaked whale is primarily found in schools containing from two to nine individuals. However, when travelling, these schools can expand to up to 30 individuals (2).
Baird’s beaked whale preys mainly upon cephalopods and deep-sea fishes (8). To obtain this deep-sea prey, Baird’s beaked whale is capable of diving for up to 67 minutes, although the majority of dives are no longer than 30 minutes (2). Following a dive, Baird’s beaked whale spends between 1 and 14 minutes at the surface before diving again (2). At the surface, this species blows continuously, making it easy to identify (2).
Male Baird’s beaked whales may fight for access to fertile females, using their distinctive ‘battle teeth’. These teeth are supported by particularly dense bone, which provides the reinforcement needed during confrontations (6). The growth layers of these teeth can be used to determine the individual’s age (6).
The female Baird’s beaked whale gives birth after a gestation period thought to last around 17 months (2). Female Baird’s beaked whales reach sexual maturity at 10 to 15 years of age, but males do not reach sexual maturity until about 30 years (2).
The male Baird’s beaked whale lives to about 84 years and the female to between 55 and 84 years (2), and thus a higher proportion of males are often found within the adult population (2).
A number of human activities pose a threat to offshore species of cetaceans, including Baird’s beaked whale. These activities include increasing interactions with industrial fisheries, ship collisions, chemical pollution and man-made noise, such as that from military sonar exercises (9). However, the human impact on Baird’s beaked whale is difficult to determine given the difficulties associated with studying such an elusive species (9).
Baird’s beaked whale is also threatened by hunting. In the past, the USSR, Canada and the United States hunted this species, but today only Japan still hunts this whale (1).
Finally, climate change is likely to have an impact on Baird’s beaked whale, as global warming is predicted to alter the marine environment. However, the exact nature of this impact is not yet clear (1).
The slow growth rate of this species means that its populations can be slow to recover from any losses (9).
Baird’s beaked whale is not currently the focus of any specific conservation measures. The international body responsible for the conservation of whales and the management of whaling, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), currently lacks the necessary data to impose regulations and catch limits for this species (1). However, Baird’s beaked whale may receive some protection from international trade under its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3).
It is thought that present catch levels do not present a serious threat to Baird’s beaked whale, but further research is required to fully assess the status of its populations (1).
Find out more about Baird’s beaked whale:
Convention on Migratory Species - Berardius bairdii:
Learn more about the conservation of whales and dolphins:
International Whaling Commission:
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society:
The Beaked Whale Resource:
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- Beak: in whales and dolphins, the elongated front part of the head, comprising the lower jaw and upper jaw.
- Cephalopod: a group of animals that occur only in marine habitats. All species have grasping tentacles, and either an internal or external shell. Includes cuttlefish, squids and octopuses.
- Cetacean: a whale, dolphin or porpoise.
- Dorsal fin: the unpaired fin found on the back of the body of fish, or the raised structure on the back of most cetaceans.
- Gestation: the state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
IUCN Red List (June, 2011)
- Perrin, W.F., Wursig, B. and Thewissen, J.G.M. (2008) Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press, London.
CITES (June, 2011)
- Reeves, R.R. and Mitchell, E. (1993) Status of Baird’s beaked whale, Beradius bairdii. Canadian field-naturalist, 107: 509-523.
- Dalebout, M.L., Mead, J.G., Baker, C.S, Baker, A.N. and Heldon, A.L. (2002) A new species of beaked whale Mesoplodon perrini sp. n. (Cetacea: Ziphiidae) discovered through phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequences. Marine Mammal Science, 18: 577-608.
- Mann, J., Connor, C., Tyack, P.L. and Whitehead, H. (2000) Cetacean Societies: Field Studies of Whales and Dolphins. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Convention on Migratory Species - Berardius bairdii (June, 2011)
- Walker, W.A., Mead, J.G. and Brownell, R.L. (2002) Diets of Baird’s beaked whales, Berardius bairdii, in the southern sea of Okhoysk and off the Pacific coast of Honshu, Japan. Marine Mammal Science, 18: 902-919.
- Soto, N.A., Johnson, M.P. and Madsen, P.T. (2007) Challenges in population, habitat preference and anthropogenic impact assessment of deep diving cetaceans. In: Evans, P.G.H. (Ed.) Proceedings of the ECS/ASCOBANS/ ACCOBAMS Workshop, San Sebastian, Spain.