Skip to Page Content
banner top art gif
office title gif
NOAA Fisheries
Office of Protected Resources
Acropora palmata thicket on Mona Island, Puerto Rico. Andy Bruckner, 1996Coho salmon painting, Canadian Dept of Fisheries and OceansMonk seal, C.E. BowlbyHumpback whale, Dr. Lou Herman
banner art gif
Marine Mammals
Marine Turtles
Marine & Anadromous Fish
Marine Invertebrates & Plants
Species of Concern
Threatened & Endangered Species
Critical Habitat Maps
  Contact OPR
OPR Site Map

inner curve gif

Pygmy Killer Whale (Feresa attenuata)

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

  pygmy killer whale
Pygmy Killer Whales
(Feresa attenuata)
Photo: NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center



MMPA - Pygmy killer 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: Feresa
Species: attenuata

Species Description

Pygmy killer whales are small members of the dolphin group. They can reach a length of 8.5 feet (2.6 m) and weight of 380 pounds (170 kg).

They have a small head with a rounded melon that extends in front of the mouth and there is no discernable beak. Their dorsal fin is relatively large and tall and is located behind the mid-back. They have relatively long pointed, tapering flippers (pectoral fins). Body color is dark with some small white areas on the lips and belly.

Reproductive biology is poorly known in this species.

Pygmy killer whales usually occur in groups of 50 or less. Both sexes may remain in their birth groups. They are generally less active than other oceanic dolphins; frequently they are seen "logging"--resting in groups at the surface with all animals oriented the same way.

They apparently feed primarily on squids and fishes.

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

pygmy killer whale range map
Pygmy Killer Whale Range Map
(click for larger view PDF)

Pygmy killer whales are found primarily in deep waters throughout tropical and subtropical 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 sizes for the different U.S. stocks are: Hawaii - 817; Western North Atlantic - unknown, only one sighting has been made, but these did not occur during population size surveys; Northern Gulf of Mexico - 410. There are not enough data to determine trends in these stocks. See below for links to the most recent stock assessments for the U.S. populations.

A few are "taken" in drive fisheries and there is some, probably small, bycatch in gillnet fisheries. There is no reported bycatch from U.S. fisheries. Only a few strandings are known.

Conservation Efforts
Pygmy killer whales are considered Data Deficient 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: November 6, 2014

NOAA logo Department of Commerce logo