Hyperoodontidae – Beaked whales

The Cuvier’s beaked whale is the deepest diving mammal, reaching a depth of nearly 3km (1.85 miles) in a single breath

Beaked whales’ preference for deep, open ocean waters contributes to their mystique. They are seldom seen at the surface, and even then, they are only briefly seen, making them challenging subjects to study. These whales are among the animal kingdom’s most profound divers, capable of reaching depths exceeding 2,000 meters (about 6,560 feet) and diving for over an hour to forage in zones far beyond sunlight’s penetration.

Their diet consists primarily of squid and deep-sea fish, with occasional forays to the seafloor to scavenge for crustaceans. This diet underscores their role as apex predators within the deep-sea ecosystem, controlling their prey populations and influencing their environment’s ecological balance.

An interesting aspect of beaked whales is their feeding method. Unlike other cetaceans that may use teeth to grasp or tear their food, beaked whales employ suction feeding. This technique involves the whale using its tongue and throat muscles to create a vacuum, pulling water and prey into its mouth. This highly efficient method allows it to capture fast-moving or elusive prey with minimal effort.

Regarding physical characteristics, only male beaked whales possess teeth, which emerge from their lower jaw. However, these teeth are not used for feeding but rather serve social and reproductive purposes, including intraspecific competition for mates. This is evident in some species where males bear scars, likely from encounters with other males, suggesting that these teeth play a crucial role in their mating rituals.

The elusive nature of beaked whales, combined with their deep-sea habitat, poses significant challenges for conservation. Threats such as entanglement in fishing gear, noise pollution from naval exercises and seismic surveys, and the ingestion of marine debris impact these poorly understood creatures. Moreover, because so little is known about their biology and ecology, assessing the impact of these threats and developing effective conservation strategies is difficult.