Monday, 8 September 2014

Pygmy Sperm Whale

Animal of the Month

Pygmy Sperm Whale; Photo by Pedro Madruga

What's so special about it?

The Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) may have inspired the literary classic 'Moby Dick', but fame has eluded its smaller relatives. The Pygmy Sperm Whale (Kogia breviceps) is a poorly known, dolphin-sized whale that is shy, often solitary and prefers oceanic waters far away from the coastline. Stomach contents from stranded animals reveal that squid forms much of its diet. Intriguingly, the Pygmy Sperm Whale has a method of self-defense similar to that of its chief prey item; when threatened, it expels a murky cloud into the water which obscures its escape
path. Unlike the squid's famous use of ink, however, the whale's cloud is composed of its own faecal matter. Note to self: don't swim with Pygmy Sperm Whales!

Where can I see one?

Though Pygmy Sperm Whales have a global distribution in tropical and temperate seas, they are not often sighted on whale-watching tours. Expeditions from oceanic island locations (including the Azores, New Zealand and the Caribbean region) would slightly increase your chances. Australian records are usually of beach-stranded animals, most frequently along the coastlines of New South Wales and Tasmania.

Bottlenose Dolphin; Photo by Petr Myska

Is there anything similar near Brisbane?

An almost identical species - the Dwarf Sperm Whale (Kogia simus) - lives closer to shore than its Pygmy relation, and is usually regarded as having a taller dorsal fin. Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) live off the coastal shelf of South-east Queensland, but although they are a similar size and colour to these Sperm Whales, they are much more active. In fact, one of the key behaviours used to recognise the two whale species is their habit of 'logging', where they rest motionlessly at the surface of the water until they are approached too closely.

Pygmy Sperm Whale photograph courtesy of Pedro Madruga at the Marine Mammal Conservancy.
Bottlenose Dolphin photograph courtesy of Petr Myska, at Viva Natura.


  1. Not seen or heard of these and this one looks as though having a ball. Thanks for the info.

    1. There are so many mysterious whale species! Glad I could introduce you to this happy chap :)

  2. I'm intrigued by whales! Yes, definitely don't swim with Pygmy Sperm Whales!!

    1. Me too, Liz! Especially those barely-known oceanic toothed whales that are a mystery!

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