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Pygmy Sperm Whale


Pygmy Sperm Whale / NOAA

Image of a pygmy sperm whale from NOAA's Historic Fisheries Collection

NOAA / http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/htmls/figb0258.htm
The pygmy sperm whale is an odontocete, or toothed whale. This whale has teeth only on its lower jaw. It is a fairly small whale with a squarish head and is stocky in appearance. They travel individually or in small groups of up to 5 whales. The pygmy sperm whale is a species that strands frequently, and there are several recent cases of these whales stranding due to ingestion of plastic.


The pygmy sperm whale is small as whales go, reaching average lengths of about 10 feet and weights of about 900 pounds. The pygmy sperm whale has 12-16 pairs of sharp teeth on its lower jaw, which fit into "pockets" on its upper jaw. The body of a pygmy sperm whale is a blue-gray to black on the upper side and white to pink on the lower side. Pygmy sperm whales have a marking behind their eye called the "false gill" because it is a rounded marking banded by a darker line and resembles a fish's gills. When they are swimming in the water or stranded on a beach, their pointed rostrum (nose) resembles that of a shark.


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Cetacea
  • Family: Kogiidae
  • Genus: Kogia
  • Species: breviceps


The pygmy sperm whale's feeding habits are not well known, but they are thought to feed on crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp, and octopus, squid and fish.


The gestation period for pygmy sperm whales is 11 months, after which the female gives birth to a calf that is about 4 feet long. Calves are born primarily in spring and autumn.

Habitat and Distribution:

Pygmy sperm whales are widely distributed worldwide, and can be found in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical waters.


These whales strand fairly frequently, either as a single individual or in cow-calf pairs. One of the more well-known strandings to cetologists is the stranding of a whale dubbed "Inky," who came ashore in New Jersey in 1993. After vets determined there was plastic in the whale's stomach that inhibited its ability to feed, surgery was conducted and over 3 square feet of plastic, including a mylar balloon, were removed from the whale. The whale recovered from surgery and was released several months later. Initial observations suggested that she adjusted well after being returned to the wild.

The pygmy sperm whale is classified as data-deficient on the IUCN Red List, with little known about the true abundance of this species.


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