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Melon-headed Whale (Peponocephala electra)

Status | Taxonomy | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution |
Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview |
Key Documents | More Info

  melon-headed whale, (c) keoki stender
Melon-headed Whale
(Peponocephala electra)
Photo: © Keoki Stender



MMPA - Melon-headed whales, like all marine mammals, are protected under the MMPA.
CITES Appendix II - throughout its range

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Genus: Peponocephala
Species: 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.

They prefer deeper areas of warmer tropical waters where their prey are concentrated.


Blue Whale range map
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.

Population Trends
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.

melon-headed whale. (c) alison cohan.
Melon-headed Whale
(Peponocephala electra)
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.

Conservation Efforts
Melon-headed whales are considered Least Concern in the IUCN Redlist This link is an external site.. 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.

Regulatory Overview
This species is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 as amended.

Key Documents
(All documents are in PDF format.)

Title Federal Register Date
Stock Assessment Reports n/a various

More Information

Updated: December 12, 2012

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