The Melon-Headed Whale is a small species, with a pointed,
melon-shaped head and slender body. The dorsal fin is high
and curved. The body colour is dark grey, bluish-black or
dark brown, often with a dark strip that travels from the
head to the dorsal and down onto the flanks. Occasionally
there is a dark 'mask' on the face. The lips are white, and
a dark grey 'anchor' shape (reminiscent of Pilot Whales) is
present on the undersides. There are 20-25 pairs of teeth
on both the upper and lower jaws. This cetacean reaches a
maximum length of 2.75m and a maximum weight of 275kg.
The Melon-Headed Whale can be easily confused with the Pygmy
Killer Whale (which is smaller) and the False Killer Whale
(which is larger). The more pointed head, and more curved
dorsal should be enough to distinguish this species from the
above; and, on the beach, counting the number of teeth is
a useful recognition tool.
Melon-Headed Whales tend to prefer subtropical and tropical
waters, particularly those that are deep and in the open ocean.
They are rarely found in warm temperate and enclosed waters.
The Melon-Headed Whale has been seen in all major oceans,
and it seems to have a continuous distribution in tropical
and subtropical offshore waters.
The Melon-Headed Whale was initally thought to be a Lagenorhynchus
dolphin until two North Pacific specimens were examined in
the 1960s. In 1966, Nishiwaki and Norris created the new genus
Peponocephala ('melon-head') specifically for this species.
Not closely related to other cetaceans, the Melon-Headed Whale
is generally accepted as an 'outcast' member of the 'Blackfish'.
Local Names: Melonheaded Whale; Many-Toothed Blackfish; Little
Killer Whale; Electra Dolphin; Melonhead Whale.
Melon-Headed Whales are thought to prey mainly upon squid
and small fish.
The typical family unit contains a between 100-500 individuals,
and occasionally can reach as many as 2,000. Often associating
with dolphins, Melon-Headed Whales are an excitable species
and can prove to be rapid swimmers. Mass strandings are common.
Estimated Current Population: Unknown, but considered rare.
The Influence of Man: A few Melon-Headed Whales have been
taken by Japanese fishermen in the past decades, and many
are killed from entrapments in fishing gear. One or two have
been taken into captivity, but not for longer than 17 months
due to their fierce temperament.