Melon-headed Whale (Peponocephala electra)Species Description
Melon-headed whales are small members of the dolphin group. They can reach a length of 9 feet (2.7 m) and weight of 460 pounds (210 kg).
They have a small head with a rounded melon and no discernable beak. Their dorsal fin is relatively large and they have pointed, tapering flippers (pectoral fins). Body color is dark with a large dorsal cape and dark areas on the side of the face that are not always readily apparent.
Females have gestation periods of approximately 12 months. Lactation period and many other reproductive facts are poorly known. Longevity is 22 years for males and 30 years for females.
Melon-headed whales often occur in groups of hundreds to over 1,000 animals. Smaller, coordinated subgroups are common within the larger groups. They are often found on the edge of, or behind, schools of Fraser's dolphins.
They feed primarily on squids, fishes, and some crustaceans in moderately deep water.
Melon Headed Whale Range Map
(click for larger view PDF)
Melon-headed whales are found primarily in deep waters throughout tropical areas of the world. There are three recognized stocks in the U.S.: Hawaii, Northern Gulf of Mexico, and Western North Atlantic.
Current population estimates for the different U.S. stocks are: Hawaii - 2,950; Western North Atlantic - unknown, only two sightings have been made, but these did not occur during population size surveys; Northern Gulf of Mexico - 3,450. See below for links to the most recent stock assessments for the U.S. populations. There are not enough data to determine trends in the Hawaii, Western North Atlantic, or Northern Gulf of Mexico stocks.
Photo: © Alison Cohan, Pacific Whale Foundation
Bycatch occurs in some areas, though not to any large extent and there are no recent bycatch records from the U.S. There may have been a drive fishery in the Solomon Islands before the 1990s, and melon-headed whales are sometimes caught as bycatch in the drive fisheries in Japan and other parts of the Pacific.
Mass stranding is fairly common in this species, especially in Hawaii in the U.S. A stranding event in 2004, in which 150-200 melon-headed whales in Hawaii remained inside a bay on the island of Kauai until herded out by volunteers, may have been related to nearby U.S. Navy training involving the use of sonar.
Melon-headed whales are considered Least Concern in the IUCN Redlist . There are no known conservation efforts directed specifically at this species as they are poorly known and have few fishery interactions or other known threats.
|Stock Assessment Reports||n/a||various|
- Mass Stranding of Melon-headed Whales in Hawai'i, July 2004
- NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office Melon-headed Whale Information
- NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries
- Listen to Melon-headed Whale Sounds
Updated: December 12, 2012