Tasmacetus shepherdi (Shepherd's beaked whale, Tasman beaked whale)

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Shepherd's beaked whale
Two Shepherd's beaked whales underwater, one mostly obscured by the other
First underwater sighting of live Shepherd's beaked whales, near Inaccessible Island, Tristan da Cunha, January 2017
Shepherd's beaked whale size.svg
Size compared to an average human
CITES Appendix II (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Infraorder: Cetacea
Family: Ziphiidae
Genus: Tasmacetus
Oliver, 1937
T. shepherdi
Binomial name
Tasmacetus shepherdi
Oliver, 1937
Cetacea range map Shepherd 27s Beaked Whale.png
Shepherd's beaked whale range

Shepherd's beaked whale (Tasmacetus shepherdi), also commonly called Tasman's beaked whale or simply the Tasman whale, is a cetacean of the family Ziphiidae. The whale has not been studied extensively. Only four confirmed at sea sightings have been made and 42 strandings recorded (as of 2006). It was first known to science in 1937, being named by W. R. B. Oliver after George Shepherd, curator of the Wanganui Museum, who collected the type specimen near Ohawe on the south Taranaki coast of New Zealand's North Island, in 1933.[3][4]


Adults can reach lengths of 6 metres (20 ft) to 7.1 metres (23 ft) and weigh about 2.32 to 3.48 tons. At birth they may be about 3 metres (9.8 ft) long. They are robust and large-bodied for beaked whales, having a bluff melon and a long, dolphin-like beak.[5] It is the only species of ziphiid with a full set of functional teeth (17 to 27 pairs in both the upper and lower jaws).[4] Adult males also have a pair of tusks at the tip of the lower jaw. They are dark brown dorsally and cream-colored ventrally, with a pale band extending up from the flipper and another pale area extending as a swathe on the posterior flank. The tall, falcate dorsal fin is set about two-thirds the way along the back.[5]

Population and distribution[edit]

No population estimates exist for Shepherd's beaked whale. As of 2006, there have been about 42 stranding records of the species from New Zealand (including the Chatham Islands, 24), Argentina (7), Tristan da Cunha (6), Australia (3), and the Juan Fernández Islands (2). There have been five unconfirmed sightings (mostly from New Zealand), as well as a "probable" sighting near Shag Rocks and four confirmed sightings—the first two confirmed sightings occurred in 1985, within a few minutes of each other, off the Tristan da Cunha group (first sighting at 37°18′S 12°32′W / 37.300°S 12.533°W / -37.300; -12.533); the third in 2002 near Gough Island (40°19′S 9°53′W / 40.317°S 9.883°W / -40.317; -9.883); and the fourth in 2004 south of Tasmania (48°50′S 150°06′E / 48.833°S 150.100°E / -48.833; 150.100).[6] In January 2012, a group of up to a dozen of this species were photographed and filmed by the Australian Antarctic Division south of Portland, Victoria.[7]

In 2016, at least two groups were observed on Taiaroa sea canyon off Otago Peninsula and this was the first confirmed sighting within New Zealand waters.[8] Additional three sightings in 2017 and two sightings in 2021 and two sightings in February 2022 and one sighting of a pod of 15-20 animals in June 2022 were made in the vicinity of the sea canyon.[9][10][11][12][13]


Four of the confirmed sightings of this species involved three to six individuals (one group included a calf) in waters from 350 metres (1,150 ft) to 3,600 metres (11,800 ft) deep, while a 2012 sighting involved as many as ten to twelve individuals. The animals surfaced several times, before arching to dive. Some were observed to come to the surface at a steep angle like many other ziphiids, raising their head and beaks out of the water.[6] The Shepherd's beaked whale's blow could be observed with the naked eye at a distance of up to 1,000 metres, within a bushy plume that is relatively tall for a ziphiid varying from 1 to 2 metres in height [14]

The species is seldom seen because of its deep, offshore distribution in waters where sighting conditions can be difficult (the "Roaring Forties" and "Furious Fifties").[6]

Research done on a stranded individual's stomach has indicated that Shepherd's beaked whales eat both fish and squid, as opposed to most beaked whales which only eat cephalopods.[15]


There are no reports of this species being hunted or killed accidentally by humans. Shepherd's beaked whale is covered by the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region (Pacific Cetaceans MOU).[16]


Its nearest relative, the only other living member of the subfamily Ziphiinae, is Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Braulik, G. (2018). "Tasmacetus shepherdi". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T21500A50377701. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T21500A50377701.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Appendices | CITES". cites.org. Retrieved 2022-01-14.
  3. ^ Te Ara Encyclopedia - Beaked whales – George Shepherd
  4. ^ a b Reeves, R.; Stewart, B.; Clapham, P. & Powell, J. (2003). Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. New York: A.A. Knopf. pp. 318–321. ISBN 0-375-41141-0.
  5. ^ a b Shirihai, H. & Jarrett, B. (2006). Whales, Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals of the World. Princeton Field Guides. pp. 43–45. ISBN 0-691-12757-3. OCLC 73174536.
  6. ^ a b c Pitman R.L., van Helden A.L., Best P.B., Pym A. (2006). "Shepherd's beaked whale (Tasmacetus shepherdi): information on appearance and biology based on strandings and at-sea observations". Mar. Mammal Sci. 22 (3): 744–755. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2006.00066.x.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Whale trackers make rare sighting
  8. ^ Gibb J.. 2016. Sighting of beaked whale a first. Otago Daily Times
  9. ^ Vaughan Elder, 2017, Population of whales off Dunedin coast significant, study finds, The Otago Daily Times, Retrieved on 02 September 2021
  10. ^ Vijay, 2021, Shepherd's beaked whale - elusive, and with precious few confirmed sightings. Part of a pod of 4 that made an appearance during a pelagic out of #Otago #NZ on Twitter
  11. ^ Hamish MacLean, 2022, Rare whales seen, vocalisation recorded, The Otago Daily Times, Retrieved on 24 February 2022
  12. ^ oscarkokako, 2021, Shepherd's beaked whale (Tasmacetus shepherdi), iNaturalist
  13. ^ adamduchac, 2022, Shepherd's beaked whale (Tasmacetus shepherdi), iNaturalist
  14. ^ Donnelly, David M.; Ensor, Paul; Gill, Peter; Clarke, Rohan H.; Evans, Karen; Double, Michael C.; Webster, Trudi; Rayment, Will; Schmitt, Natalie T. (July 2018). "New diagnostic descriptions and distribution information for Shepherd's beaked whale ( Tasmacetus shepherdi ) off Southern Australia and New Zealand: DESCRIPTIONS AND DISTRIBUTION FOR T. SHEPHERDI". Marine Mammal Science. 34 (3): 829–840. doi:10.1111/mms.12478.
  15. ^ Best, P.B.; Smale, M.J.; Glass, J.; Herian, K.; Von Der Heyden, S. (2014). "Identification of stomach contents from a Shepherd's beaked whale Tasmacetus shepherdi stranded on Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic". Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 94 (6): 1093–1097. doi:10.1017/s0025315412001658. hdl:2263/42919.
  16. ^ Official webpage of the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region


  1. Shepherd's beaked whale in the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals Thomas A. Jefferson, 1998. ISBN 0-12-551340-2
  2. Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises Carwardine, 1995. ISBN 0-7513-2781-6
Retrieved Wed, 06 Jul 2022 04:27:40 (GMT), from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ().