Melon-headed whale

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Melon-headed whale
Melon-headed whale large.jpg
Melon-headed whale size.svg
Size compared to an average human
Conservation status
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Delphinidae
Genus: Peponocephala
Species: P. electra
Binomial name
Peponocephala electra
(Gray, 1846)
Cetacea range map Melon-headed Whale.PNG
Melon-headed whale range

The melon-headed whale (species Peponocephala electra; other names are many-toothed blackfish and electra dolphin) is a cetacean of the oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae). It is closely related to the pygmy killer whale and pilot whale, and collectively these dolphin species are known by the common name blackfish. It is also related to the false killer whale.[1] The melon-headed whale is widespread throughout the world's tropical waters, although not often seen by humans because it prefers deep water.[2]


The melon-headed whale has a body shape rather like a torpedo. Its head is a rounded cone giving the animal its common name. The body is more or less uniformly light grey except for a dark grey face – sometimes called the "mask". The flippers are long and pointed. The dorsal fin is tall with a pointed tip – reminiscent of its relative the killer whale. When viewed in profile, its head is not as rounded as the pygmy killer whale and this may aid identification.

This whale is capable of very fast swimming, particularly when startled. In flight, it often makes short, low jumps clear of the sea surface, splashing lots of water. Melon-headed whales usually gather in large numbers (at least 100 and possibly as many as 1,000 on rare occasions) and sometimes strand together.

The melon-headed whale weighs 10–15 kg (22–33 lb) at birth and is 1 m (3.3 ft) long. An adult grows up to 3 m (9.8 ft) long and weighs over 200 kg (440 lb). The whales' lifespans are at least 20 years and probably more than 30 years for females.

Their primary diet is squid.

Hawaiian melon-headed whales spend much of their daytime at the surface resting.[1]

Population and distribution[edit]

The melon-headed whale lives far from shore in all the world's tropical and subtropical oceans. At the northern fringes of its range, it may also be found in temperate waters. Individuals have been sighted off the southern coast of Ireland. Ordinarily, however, the melon-headed whale is found beyond the continental shelf between 20°S and 20°N. Hawaii and Cebu, in the Philippines, are good sites for seeing the whale because the continental shelf there is narrow. Although no specific data exist, the species is unlikely to be migratory, in common with animals in its subfamily.

On February 10, 2009, over 300 melon-headed whales were spotted off the shallow waters of Bataan, in the Philippines.[3] Local residents and volunteers guided the dolphins back to deeper waters. Although no definite explanation has been provided for the dolphins' behaviour, two of the three dead dolphins had damaged ear drums.[4] Scientists from the International Whaling Commission claim that damage to the eardrums of melon-headed whales can be caused by high-power sonar equipment such as that used by Exxon Mobil when searching for oil.[5]

In Hawaii, group sizes are variable, ranging from a single animal to pods of 800, but typically they are found in relatively large groups (median = 287 individuals). The Hawaiian populations include a large, deepwater group that moves frequently among the islands, and a small, shallow-water population that stays near the island of Hawaiʻi. Melon-headed whales are closely related to false killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, and pygmy killer whales. Hawaiian melon-heads spend much of their daytime at the surface resting.[1]


The melon-headed whale is included in the Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Conservation of the Manatee and Small Cetaceans of Western Africa and Macaronesia (Western African Aquatic Mammals MoU) and the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region (Pacific Cetaceans MoU)

See also[edit]


  • 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). Peponocephala electra. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 24 March 2009. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  • National Audubon Society: Guide to Marine Mammals of the World ISBN 0-375-41141-0
  • Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals ISBN 0-12-551340-2


  1. ^ a b c "Melon-headed whales in Hawai‘i". Cascadia Research Institute. September 2010. Retrieved October 2010. 
  2. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2006). "Peponocephala electra" in FishBase. April 2006 version.
  3. ^ "Hundreds of dolphins sighted in Bataan waters". ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs. 2009-02-10. 
  4. ^ "Dolphins rescued off Philippines". BBC News Online. 2009-02-10. Retrieved 2012-12-24. 
  5. ^ "Sonar mapping for oil killed whales in Madagascar, a study has found". The Australian. 2013-09-27. Retrieved 2013-09-30. 

External links[edit]