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Cuvier’s beaked whale

Cuvier’s beaked whale

Ziphius cavirostris

Cuvier’s beaked whale
6 - 7.5 m
3-4 t
Slope - Pelagic
Deep-Sea Squids, Fishes
Sighting frequency
Underwater Noise
Conservation status
Conservation status
Status Vulnerable

Its body is robust and cylindrical, often scored with scars. The head is small, with an upward-curved mouth and a protruding mandible. Its coloration is highly variable and is linked to age and sex: young and juveniles range from dark grey to uniform brown, while adult males are light grey to whitish. It is the shyest cetacean found in the Mediterranean. Considered a true free driving champion, it holds the record among marine mammals for the longest (over 3 hours) and deepest (nearly 3,000 m) dives, which it makes to capture deep-sea fishes and squids.

Although classified as an odontocete, Cuvier’s beaked whales are actually toothless. Adult males are the exception, with two teeth protruding from the end of the lower jaw.



In the Sanctuary, Cuvier’s beaked whales are mostly encountered in small groups, particularly along the underwater canyons between Genoa and Savona. Despite their generally shy behavior, they sometimes approach boats or jump out of the water. This species is particularly vulnerable to exposure to the low- and medium-frequency waves of military sonar, which can cause strandings and the death of entire schools: affected individuals show severe damage similar to decompression sickness. The strong acoustic disturbance emitted during military exercises is thought to induce an overly abrupt return to the surface from high depths, causing an embolism.

  • Cuvier’s beaked whale

How to recognise species and distinguish individuals

By the shape of the dorsal fin and notches on its posterior margin, and by the scars on the body

  • Cuvier’s beaked whale

Freediving champion. Cuvier's beaked whale holds the absolute record for the longest and deepest dives

Did you know that…

The function of the two teeth in adult males appears to be related to fighting between males. Like other cetacean species, they can ingest plastic fragments and accumulate them in the digestive system, sometimes with serious consequences.

  • Cuvier’s beaked whale