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Flags fly at Mount Nelson once again

26/06/2018

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Pygmy Sperm Whale

Drawing by Graham Sanders
These are small robust whales reaching about 4m in length and about 480kg in the larger female. They have a distinctive underslung jaw similar to that of a shark and their skull is markedly asymmetrical. The flippers are set high near the head and the small sickle shaped dorsal fin is usually about half way down the body. They are dark blue/grey above with lighter underside. Between the eye and flipper is a distinctive crescent shaped lighter coloured mark often referred to as a false gill. They can occur singly or in groups of up to 6. They are an open ocean species and are one of the most common species to come ashore in strandings.

General Information

Distribution map of sightings and strandings (click to enlarge)
Pygmy Sperm Whales live up to 30 years of age and reach sexual maturity at 5 years at around 2.5m. Females probably calve each year. They feed on squid. The underslung jaw and false gill make for easy detection when stranded. They also appear to float higher in the water than the Dwarf Sperm Whale. They are hard to spot in the open ocean although are said to be easy to approach as they spend considerable time lying quietly on the surface with the back of the head exposed.

Stranding Information

Over 82 strandings of Pygmy Sperm Whales have been recorded in Australia with most being in Queensland, Victoria, Northern Territory and South Australia and only a few in Tasmania. In New Zealand this is also a common strander with nearly 200 animals recorded, although most are single events there have been about 10 mass events with up to 4 animals. They often strand as a female and calf.