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Home / News / General / Hawaii’s cetaceans

Hawaii’s cetaceans

By: Denver Leaman

Melon-headed Whale

Melon-headed Whale (Peponocephala electra)
Suborder: Odonticeti Family: Delphinidae
Common in Hawaiian waters. Actually a dolphin.

Other known names:

Many-toothed blackfish, Little killer whale, Electra dolphin

Identity Keys to use in the field:

Torpedo shaped body; pointed melon shaped head; no teeth visible; White "lips"; long flippers with a sharply pointed tip; flippers one fifth of body length; dark coloration; tall dorsal fin; broad flukes; normally avoids boats; often bow-rides; dark flippers, tail and fin; slow, deliberate swimmer

General description and habits:

The melon-headed whale is slim, with long sharply pointed flippers, a tall dorsal fin in the center of its back, and a head that is rather like the shape of a watermelon. It has dark gray patches on its back, and on its face that look like a cloak and a mask. The rest of its body is a paler blue- gray or even black color, apart from its off white patch on its belly. It also has white or light pink coloring around its mouth that look like lips. It has 42 to 50 teeth on the upper jaw, and the same number on the bottom jaw. They have a reputation for being fierce after two attacked their handlers in fright, when they were caught for aquariums in the Philippines and Hawaii. Melon-headed whales are only about 1 meter long when born. They grow to an adult length of between 2.1 and 2.7 meters. Adults weigh about 160kg. These whales stay in deep waters, and do not swim close to the land. They can travel fast, and make low leaps out of the water that surrounds them in a lot of spray. This makes it difficult to see them clearly. They usually swim in tightly packed groups of up to 500 other whales, which are called 'pods'. It is very rare for a whale to swim up to a boat and bow-ride, but there is more chance of them doing this in areas where they haven't been scared before by fishing boats.


Fish and squid


Melon-headed whales live in deep sub-tropical waters all over the world. They are often seen around the Philippines, and along the east coast of Australia.

Population estimates:



Hunting, Entanglement in fishing nets

Interesting facts:

Some pods of melon-headed whales can include up to 1500 animals.

Hawaii’s cetaceans
  • Humpback whales
  • Striped Dolphin
  • Spinner Dolphin
  • Baird’s Beaked Whale
  • Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin
  • Blainville's Beaked Whale
  • Bryde's Whale
  • Cuvier's Beaked Whale
  • Dwarf Sperm Whale
  • False Killer Whale
  • Fin Whale
  • Killer Whale
  • Melon-headed Whale
  • Minke Whale
  • Northern Right Whale
  • Pygmy Killer Whale
  • Pygmy Sperm Whale
  • Risso's Dolphin
  • Rough-toothed Dolphin
  • Short-finned Pilot Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Spotted Dolphin



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