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Melon-headed Whale
Size comparison against an average human
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Suborder: Odontoceti
Family: Delphinidae
Genus: Peponocephala
Species: P. electra
Binomial name
Peponocephala electra
(Gray, 1846)
Melon-headed Whale range

The Melon-headed Whale (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. The Melon-headed Whale is widespread throughout the world's tropical waters, although not often seen by humans on account of its preference for deep water.

Contents

Taxonomy

On account of its inaccessibility (most scientific data has come from mass strandings), this species is poorly understood. Until 1966 it was classified in the genus Lagenorhynchus. Scientists then reclassified the creature into its own genus, Peponocephala.

Description

The Melon-headed Whale has a body shape rather like a torpedo - its head shaped like 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 cousin the Orca. When viewed in profile the head is not as rounded as the Pygmy Killer and this may be an aid to identification.

This whale is capable of swimming very quickly, particularly when startled. When doing so it often makes short low jumps clear of the sea surface, causing lots of splash. Melon-heads usually gather in large numbers (at least 100 and possible as many as 1000 on rare occasions) and sometimes strand together.

The Melon-head weighs about 10-15 kilograms (22-33 lb) at birth and is 1 meter (3 ft) long. An adult grows up to 3 meters (10 ft) long and weighs in excess of 200 kilograms (440 lb). The whales' lifespan is at least 20 years and probably more than 30 years for females.

Their primary diet is squid.

Population and distribution

The Melon-headed Whale lives well off-shore in all the world's tropical and sub-tropical oceans. At the northern fringes of its range it may also be found in the warm currents of temperate waters. For example, there has been the odd sighting off the southern coast of Ireland. Ordinarily, however, the Melon-head 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 as the continental shelf is narrow. Although no specific data exists, the species is unlikely to be migratory in common with animals in its subfamily.

On 10 February 2009, over 300 melon-headed whales were spotted off the shallow waters of Bataan, in the Philippines.[1] Local residents and volunteers guided the dolphins back to deeper waters. Although no definite explanation has been provided for the dolphins' behaviour, it's been noted that two of the three dead dolphins had damaged ear drums.[2]

References

  • 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. Downloaded on 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

External links


Simple English

The Melon-headed Whale (Peponocephala electra) is a mammal of the oceanic dolphin family.

It is closely related to the Pygmy Killer Whale and the Pilot Whale. These dolphin species are known by the common name "Blackfish". The Melon-headed Whale is widespread throughout the world's tropical waters, although it is not often seen by humans because it prefers to live in deep water.

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