Northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus)

French: Hyperoodon Boréal
Spanish: Ballena Hocico De Botella Del Norte, Ballena Nariz De Botella Del Norte
GenusHyperoodon (1)
SizeMale length: 7.3 - 9.8 m (2)
Female length: 5.8 - 8.7 m (2)

Classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1). Listed on Annex IV of the EC Habitats Directive. All cetaceans (whales and dolphins) are listed on Annex A of EU Council Regulation 338/97; they are therefore treated by the EU as if they are included in CITES Appendix I, so that commercial trade is prohibited. This species is listed on Appendix II of the Bonn Convention and Appendix III of the Bern Convention (3). All cetaceans are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985 (4). Whaling is illegal in UK waters under the Fisheries Act of 1981. The UK recognises the authority of the International Whaling Commission concerning matters relating to regulation of whaling (4).

The northern bottlenose whale has a bulbous forehead and an obvious tube-like beak, these features are more pronounced in older male individuals (2). The specific part of the scientific name, ampullatus, means 'flask' and refers to the bottle-like shape of the head (5). Young individuals are dark on the dorsal surface (back) with a light belly, and become paler as they age (6). In males a whitish patch develops on the forehead, which becomes larger as the male gets older (6). The robust body is spindle-shaped, and the dorsal fin is triangular (7) and placed far behind centre. Northern bottlenose whales have two teeth on the lower jaw; these only erupt on males (8).

Found in the north Atlantic only. In the UK it occurs in small numbers around the Northern and Western Isles of Scotland, the northern North Sea and along the continental shelf break to the west of Ireland. It is observed most frequently off western Norway and the Barents Sea (4).

This whale is a cold-temperate to sub-arctic species and prefers deep waters off the continental slope (4), and normally occurs in water deeper than 1,000 metres (8).

This species is highly inquisitive and frequently approaches boats. This has made them more susceptible to scientific study, whale watching and unfortunately hunting than the other beaked whales (2). This is a social species that travels in groups of four to ten members strong (5) (7). They feed on deep-water squid, as well as other invertebrates and various fish species (2), using sonar to detect their prey; when hunting they dive to depths of 1,000 metres or more (2). This species is unusual as it spends the whole year in cold water, and does not make seasonal migrations like most other whales (2). The average life span of this whale is thought to be somewhere between 30 and 40 years (5).

The main threats to the northern bottle-nosed whale are thought to be chemical and noise pollution, prey depletion, human disturbance, and hunting (7). This species has been hunted more than any of the other species of beaked whales (2). The extent to which populations of this species have been reduced by hunting is unclear, and the current status of the population is unknown (2).

A UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species, the northern bottle-nosed whale is protected in UK waters by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Orders, 1985; it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure, or harass any cetacean (whale or dolphin) species in UK waters. Whaling is illegal in UK waters, and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) introduced a world moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982 (2), which came into effect in 1986 (9) (although Norway and Japan have continued whaling activities) (2). Seven European countries have signed the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS), including the UK. Provision is made under this agreement to set up protected areas, promote research and monitoring, pollution control and increase public awareness (4). Increased awareness of this species may help to secure its future (2).

To learn more about the conservation of whales and dolphins see:


Information authenticated by WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2008)
  2. Carwardine, M., Hoyt, E., Fordyce, R.E. and Gill, P. (1998) Whales and Dolphins, The Ultimate Guide to Marine Mammals. Harper Collins Publishers, London.
  3. Council of Europe: Bern Convention (October, 2002)
  4. UKBAP (September, 2008)
  5. (June, 2002)
  6. Macdonald, D.W. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. WDCS (June, 2002)
  8. Carwardine, M. (1995) Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  9. International Whaling Commission (October, 2002)