Sowerby’s Beaked Whale

Mesoplodon bidens

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

The Sowerby's Beaked Whale is a relatively small whale, with adults typically measuring 4.5 to 5.5 metres in length. Distinctive characteristics of the species include:

  • A small melon (forehead) that tapers into a long and narrow beak
  • A dark grey, streamlined, spindle-shaped body
  • A pair of external V-shaped grooves on the throat between the lower jaw bones
  • A small triangular dorsal fin located about two-thirds of the way down the back
  • Relatively long (approximately one-eighth of the body length) pectoral fins

Adult males can be distinguished from females or juvenile males by the following characteristics:

  • Adult males have a single pair of fully erupted teeth in the lower jaw that protrude outside the mouth
  • Adult males have extensive scarring on their bodies, presumed to be from tooth-rake injuries resulting from male-male fighting

Habitat

In Canadian waters, the Sowerby's Beaked Whale is thought to mostly inhabit deep waters (>500 metres) along the continental slope from Nova Scotia to the Davis Strait. Sightings are relatively rare, particularly off Newfoundland and Labrador, making it difficult to determine the species' habitat preferences and distribution patterns. Available data suggests that Sowerby's Beaked Whales aggregate near the Northeast Channel and the Eastern Scotian Shelf canyons (Gully, Shortland, and Haldimand). In 2004, the Gully was designated a Marine Protected Area under the Oceans Act. The high level of protection afforded to this area has likely benefitted the Sowerby's Beaked Whales known to occur there.

Threats

Current threats to Sowerby's Beaked Whales include (in no particular order) anthropogenic (human-made) noise, entanglement, vessel strikes, and contaminants. Anthropogenic noise is of particular concern since Sowerby's Beaked Whales rely on sound to carry out their life functions, including foraging, socializing, and navigation. The deep-diving behaviour of these whales may make them especially vulnerable to physiological impacts from acoustic disturbance.

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale. Photo credit: Whitehead Lab

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale. Photo credit: Whitehead Lab

Male Sowerby's Beaked Whale, with a single tooth visible (photo credit: Whitehead Lab).

Male Sowerby's Beaked Whale, with a single tooth visible (photo credit: Whitehead Lab).

Male Sowerby's Beaked Whale, with extensive scarring evident (photo credit: Whitehead lab).

Male Sowerby's Beaked Whale, with extensive scarring evident (photo credit: Whitehead lab).

Further Information

Development of a digital photo-identification catalogue for the Sowerby's Beaked Whale is underway, with further data collection planned over the next several years. These data will help to estimate population size and may provide information on social structure and movement patterns.

Over the next several years, scientists will attempt to collect skin and blubber biopsy samples from Sowerby's Beaked Whales – a first for this species in Canadian waters. If sampling is successful, the specimens will be analyzed to learn more about the species' genetics, contamination levels, and diet.

DFO and its partners are working to learn more about Sowerby's Beaked Whale vocalizations, which have not yet been fully characterized or confirmed. Acoustic data, collected between 2012 and 2014, are being analyzed for the presence of Sowerby's echolocation clicks. These data were obtained at three sites located within and between the three Eastern Scotian Shelf canyons. Beaked whale calls recorded in the frequency range of 70-90 kHz are thought to be associated with Sowerby's Beaked Whales. Once these vocalizations have been confirmed, habitat use may be better described.

The final version of the management plan for this species, which includes a series of conservation measures to address threats and knowledge gaps, has been published on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

To learn more about the Gully ecosystem and Sowerby's Beaked Whales: The Gully Marine Protected Area: A Diversity of Life and a Sanctuary for Whales

To report Sowerby's Beaked Whale sightings, please contact DFO:

In the Maritimes:

Phone (toll-free): 1-844-800-8568
Email: XMARWhaleSightings@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Twitter: @DFO_MAR

In Newfoundland and Labrador:

Phone: 1-709-772-2295
Email: whalesighting@dfo-mpo.gc.ca or telljack@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Twitter: @DFO_NL or @drjwlawson

To report Sowerby's Beaked Whale incidents (e.g. dead, entangled, or injured animals), please call one of the following toll-free hotlines as soon as possible:

In the Maritimes:

Phone: 1-866-567-6277 (Marine Animal Response Society)

In Newfoundland and Labrador:

Phone: 1-888-895-3003 (Tangly Whales)

For more information on marine mammals and species at risk, visit: Species at Risk Public Registry.

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale

Illustration credit: Jeffrey C. Domm

Scientific name: Mesoplodon bidens
SARA Status: Special Concern
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
Regions: Atlantic Ocean
Taxonomy: Mammal (marine)

Transcript

Narrator: "Fisheries and Oceans Canada presents: identifying and reporting Sowerby's Beaked Whales. DFO Research Scientist, Dr. Hilary Moors-Murphy, studies and monitors whales in Eastern Canada. She will help you spot these beaked whales. And maybe one day you will have an opportunity to tell Hilary when you see one."

Dr. Hilary Moors-Murphy: "Sowerby's Beaked Whales are a species of Special Concern. Submarine canyon habitats off of Nova Scotia are important to Sowerby's Beaked Whales. These whales are regularly found in the Gully, Shortland and Haldimand canyons of the Eastern Scotian Shelf. Sowerby's beaked whales are a type of beaked whale with a long beak. They range from light to dark grey in color and some have long white scars along their backs. They also have rounded dorsal fins about two-thirds of the way down their backs. The blow of this animal is very small and usually not visible. Sowerby's Beaked Whale Calves, or babies, have shorter, darker beaks. The females do not have exposed teeth. The males usually have exposed teeth in their lower jaw and scarring along their back. Adult Sowerby's beaked whales can be up to five meters in length. When Sowerby's Beaked Whales come to the surface, we see their beaks first, and then their dorsal fin. They rarely raise their flukes, or tails, when diving.

"Please help DFO monitor Sowerby's Beaked Whales and report all sightings. Remember to provide important details about you sighting, including the number and type of whales seen, the date and time, and the location, such as your latitude and longitude. When possible, please share your photos and videos as well. To report Sowerby's Beaked Whale sightings, please call 1-844-800-8568 or email XMARWhaleSightings@dfo-mpo.gc.ca. If you see entangled, injured or dead whales please contact the Marine Animal Response Society as soon as possible at 1-866-567-6277 or VHF Channel 16 or email marineanimalresponse@gmail.com."

Video/photos courtesy of Whitehead Lab, Dalhousie University, Dr. Hilary Moors-Murphy and Catalina Gomez.

see description below

Global distribution of Sowerby’s Beaked Whales (grey shading). Source: COSEWIC.

This map shows the global distribution of Sowerby's Beaked Whale, a species found exclusively in the North Atlantic Ocean. Shading on the map indicates where the species is known to occur, and includes four primary areas:

  1. the Norwegian Sea, the North Sea, and the waters off Iceland and the British Isles;
  2. the waters around Madeira;
  3. the waters around the Azores; and
  4. the waters off of North America from the northeastern United States to the Davis Strait.

Did You Know?

Sowerby's Beaked Whales belong to a family of whale species known for their extreme diving behaviour. These species regularly dive to depths in excess of 1000 metres for up to an hour or more.

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