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Beaked Whales: Ziphiidae - Physical Characteristics

teeth species jaw forehead

Beaked whales are the second largest family of living whales. They get their name from their long, narrow snout, or beak. In some species, the snout slopes gradually into the forehead. In others, the forehead bulges out over the beak. Beaked whales breathe through a blowhole on top of their head. They have a melon, a fatty organ in their forehead that they use for echolocation (eck-oh-loh-KAY-shun).

Beaked whales are toothed whales. However, all species except Shepherd's beaked whale have very few teeth. Males usually have only one or two teeth in the lower jaw and just stubs or no visible teeth at all in the upper jaw. The lower jaw teeth grow into tusks in some species. In females of some species, the teeth never erupt, or break through the skin, although in x rays they can be seen in the jaw.

Beaked whales are medium-sized whales ranging from about 13 to 42 feet (4 to 13 meters) in length and weighing up to 25,000 pounds (11,500 kilograms). They have cigar-shaped bodies that are thicker in the middle than at either end. Their dorsal (back) fin is small and set farther back toward the tail than in other whales. The bones in what would be the hand and arm of a land animal are compressed into a web of bone to make small flippers that fit against their body in depressions called flipper pockets. The back legs are so reduced that all that remains are a few internal pelvic bones. Beaked whales have strong, muscular tails that, unlike most other whales, are not notched. They range in color from light brown to gray to black. Males and females may have different color patterns.

Beaked Whales: Ziphiidae - Diet [next]

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