Written by Laurel Dykun
I’d like to introduce you to one of my favourite marine species, the Northern Bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus). While they look like a very large Bottlenose dolphin, this cetacean is actually a species of beaked whale that lives in the North Atlantic.
These whales are medium in size (for a whale), reaching around 10 metres in length at maturity. Northern Bottlenose males have a peculiarly large forehead, called a melon, that is very flat or square shaped. Females and juveniles have a smaller, more rounded melon. Males also have a single pair of erupted teeth, while the females’ teeth stay embedded in their jaw. It’s believed that males use their teeth in combat to fight for potential mates.
Beaked whales are often cryptic and elusive, making them difficult to study. There is still a lot of mystery surrounding how these whales live. However, Northern Bottlenose whales are known to be curious and approach vessels more frequently than other species.
Northern Bottlenose whales are extremely deep divers, with the ability to dive 1500 metres plus below the surface, going under for up to 130 minutes! While diving, they hunt for their prey of choice, squid. Since they don’t have teeth like a dolphin would, they use a sucking motion to slurp their food into their beak, like a big spaghetti noodle!
These whales live in highly social groups and communicate with one another using a variety of clicks, and sounds. Instead of relying on eyesight when hunting, they send out a series of high frequency clicks called a ‘click train’ to locate their prey. These sonar pulses bounce off their target, making it easy to find them in complete darkness. On a spectrogram, these can be visually seen as the classic beaked whale ‘upsweep’.
In Canada, Northern Bottlenose Whales are listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act, and as near threatened on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) red list. The best-known location of these whales is in the Gully, a large submarine canyon off of Nova Scotia, and one of Canada’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). This population, and the newly discovered populations off Labrador, are the focus of Dalhousie University’s Whitehead Lab.
Leave a Reply.
We send blog recaps with in all our quarterly newsletters!