Baird’s beaked whales are the largest whales in the ziphiid family. They have a long, well-defined, tube-like beak and a rounded forehead (rising at a shallower angle than in bottlenose whales, Hyperoodon spp., but steeper than in Ziphius or Mesoplodon). The body, however, is relatively more slender than that of the otherwise-similar bottlenose whales.
Baird’s beaked whales are dark brownish-gray, usually heavily scarred with light scratches or splotches on the back and, often, on the undersides. The small, but prominent, triangular dorsal fin is about two-thirds of the way along the back and is rounded at the tip. There is the usual V-shaped pair of throat grooves characteristic of beaked whales. Though some animals have a median notch on the flukes, most have no notch (and some even have a bulge).
There are two pairs of teeth near the tip of the lower jaw. The forward pair of teeth in adults is visible at the tip of the protruding lower jaw, even when the mouth is closed. On some individuals, these teeth are heavily infested with barnacles.
Baird’s beaked whales reach lengths of 11.9 m (males) and 12.8 m (females), and weights of up to 12,000 kg. They are about 4.5 m long at birth. The conspicuous blow is low and rounded, and is often given in rapid succession.
Can be Confused With
Several of the other beaked whales (Cuvier’s beaked whale and some species of mesoplodont are found within the Baird’s beaked whale’s range, but the larger adult size and unique head and dorsal fin of the latter species should make them identifiable. Minke whales could, in some circumstances, be confused with Baird’s beaked whales; when a good look is obtained, differences in dorsal fin shape, head shape, and coloration make the two easily distinguishable.
Baird’s beaked whales are found in deep oceanic waters of the North Pacific Ocean and the Japan, Okhotsk, and Bering seas. Their range extends to the southern Gulf of California in the eastern Pacific, and to the island of Honshu, Japan, in the western Pacific. Though they may be seen close to shore where deep water approaches the coast, their primary habitats appear to be over or near the continental slope and oceanic seamounts.
Ecology and Behavior
Baird’s beaked whales live in pods of 5-20 whales, although groups of up to 50 are occasionally seen. They often assemble in tight groups drifting along at the surface. At such times, snouts are often seen as animals slide over one another’s backs. They are deep divers, capable of staying down for over an hour.
From Japanese whaling data, it appears that males live longer than females and that females have no post-reproductive stage. There is a calving peak in March and April.
Feeding and Prey
Baird’s beaked whales feed mainly on deepwater and bottom-dwelling fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans.
Threats and Status
Baird’s beaked whales are one of the few species of ziphiids to be commercially hunted. Although small numbers were hunted by the Soviets, Canadians and American, hunts in Japan have been the only major ones. The fishery started in the early 1600s and underwent several expansions and declines. At its peak, after World War II, over 300 whales were killed annually. Now the annual quotas add up to slightly over 60 whales.
Other than hunting, and possibley occasional captures in fishing gear, no other threats to the species are known. Currently, Baird’s beaked whales are listed as ‘Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent’ (IUCN) and ‘Not Listed’ (ESA).