Cuvier's Beaked Whale

CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Cetacea
SUBORDER: Odontoceti
FAMILY: Ziphiidae
GENUS:  Ziphius
SPECIES: cavirostris
Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris

Cuvier's beaked whale, also known as the goosebeak whale, is one of twenty named species of beaked whales. It is so rarely seen that almost everything known about this small whale has come from studying stranded animals. Cuvier's beaked whale has a tendency to strand more often than any other species of beaked whales. Stranded specimens have been noted in all oceans of the world except in both polar regions--an indication of an extremely wide distribution.

Physical Description

Cuvier's beaked whale has a robust body and a small head which is about ten percent of its body length. Its forehead slopes to a poorly defined short beak, and its mouth turns upward, giving it a goose-like profile. This whale has a depression behind the blowholes which ends in a distinct neck. Its blow is small and not very noticeable and is projected slightly forward and to the left. One of its more interesting features is that in adult males two large teeth about 2 inches long (5 cm) protrude from the tip of the lower jaw. The males use these teeth in fights with each other over females. For their part the females have smaller, more pointed teeth that remain embedded in the gums. The lower jaw of the Cuvier's beaked whale extends well beyond the upper jaw. Like other beaked whales, the Cuvier's has two deep, V-shaped throat grooves.

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale Surface Characteristics
Surface Characteristics




This whale varies greatly in color. Its back may be rusty-brown, dark gray, or fawn colored and the underside of the body may be dark brown or black. As the Cuvier's beaked whale ages, first the head and neck and then the body become more lightly colored; the heads of old males are almost completely white. The back and sides of this whale, especially the males, are often covered with double-lined scratches caused by the teeth of other males. Its sides and belly are covered with oval white patches.


Fins and Fluke

Dorsal fins of Cuvier's beaked whales may vary in shape; they may be as high as 15 inches (38 cm) and falcate (curved) or less than 10 inches (25 cm) and triangular. The fin of this whale is located well behind the mid-section. Its flukes are large and rounded at the tips and may or may not be slightly notched in the center. Its flippers are small and rounded at the tips and fold back into little depressions on the side of the body.

Length and Weight

Maximum size is 23 feet (7 m). The average adult is 18 feet (5.5 m) and weighs 2.7 tons (2500 kg).


Squid is its primary food, though it sometimes eats fish and, rarely, crustaceans.

Mating and Breeding

Sexual maturity is reached when the animal is an average of about 19 feet (5.8 m) long for females and 18 feet (5.5 m) for males. Calves are between 6.5 to 10 feet (2-3 m) at birth and weigh about 600 pounds (272 kg).

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale Range Map
Range Map



Distribution and Migration

Cuvier's beaked whales are found in all the oceans of the world except the polar regions of both hemispheres. They prefer deep water of over 3,300 feet (1,000 m) and avoid shallow coastal areas.

Natural History

Cuvier's beaked whales are almost never seen at sea, so we know very little about their habits. Sightings of single animals (which are probably males) have been reported, but they are more commonly seen in groups of 2 to 7. Their life span is believed to be at least 25 years.


We know so little about this whale that there are no estimates of past or present population size. Though Cuvier's beaked whales are found stranded more often than any other species of beaked whales, only two mass strandings have been reported; one in the Galapagos and the other in Puerto Rico. These whales beach themselves singly all over the world, more often in some locations than in others. A few Cuvier's beaked whales were taken by hunters in the 1940s to 1960s in Japan's coastal whaling operations, but the numbers were so few that there was no threat to the survival of the species. This whale is not hunted at the present time. More recently, acoustical trauma has been implicated in the mass strandings of Cuvier's beaked whales in the Caribean, Azores, and the Gulf of California.


  • Jefferson, T. A., M. A. Webber, and R. L. Pitman.  2015. Marine Mammals of the World: A Comprehensive Guide to Their Identification. Second Edition, Academic Press/Elsevier, San Diego

  • Leatherwood, S.; Reeves, R., Whales and Dolphins. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1983. Miller, T. 1975. The World of the California Gray Whale Baja Trail Publications, Inc., Santa Ana, California.


James Mead of the Smithsonian Institution contributed to the revision of this fact sheet. We greatly appreciate his wealth of knowledge and assistance. Illustrations courtesy Uko Gorter, copyright ©2017 all rights reserved.