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Grays Beaked Whale

Drawing by Graham Sanders
Grays Beaked Whale, also known as the Scamperdown Whale, reaches about 6m in the female and about 5m in the male. They weigh around 1.5 tons. They usually occur singly although groups of 2-6 have been recorded. They are dark grey in colour with lighter belly patches and a light patch in front of the blow hole to the beak. The end and lips of the distinctively long, narrow beak are white and sometimes the lower jaw extends past the upper jaw. Both sexes have 17-22 pairs of vestigal conical teeth at the rear of the upper jaw and males also have a small triangular tooth midway along the lower jaw. The flippers are short and broad and the flukes are broad and quite straight edged. The dorsal fin is pointed with a concave trailing edge. Grays Beaked Whales do not produce a blow but rather take several breaths at the surface. Whilst on the surface they are slow moving and do not breach although they may porpoise showing the dorsal fin or expose their distinctive long white beak when rolling.

General Information

Distribution map of sightings and strandings (click to enlarge)
They live in deep oceanic waters where they feed on mainly squid found at depths of around 200m and are not usually seen close inshore. Calves are about 2m at birth and weaned a year later at about 3.6m. They reach sexual maturity at about 4.5m. They probably live for about 40 years.

Stranding Information

There may be a seasonal movement inshore over summer as most Australian and New Zealand Grays Beaked Whale strandings occur between December and April and many consist of an adult female and calf. There are well over 50 recorded Australian strandings of Grays Beaked Whales with the majority from Western Australia and Tasmania. This makes it the second most common strander of beaked whales in Australia. Generally they are single stranders consisting either of one animal or a mother and calf and often they are dead or dying. The way they suck in squid puts them at great risk of ingesting plastics. Other causes of strandings include illness and misadventure. There are at least four records of them mass stranding at Chatham Island, once involving 25 animals which may indicate some social grouping.