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Home / News / General / Hawaii’s cetaceans

Hawaii’s cetaceans

By: Denver Leaman

Pygmy Sperm Whale

Pygmy Sperm Whale (Kogia breviceps)
Suborder: Odonticeti Family: Physeteridae
Occurs in Hawaiian waters.

Other known names:

Short-headed sperm whale, Lesser sperm whale, Lesser cachalot

Identity Keys to use in the field:

Robust body, small size, square shaped head, blue-gray skin color, tiny, hooked fin, false gill behind each eye, slow & deliberate swimmer, may float motionless at the surface, Simply drops below surface

General description and habits:

Pygmy sperm whales look very much like dwarf sperm whales, and it wasn't until 1966 that they were actually recognized as two species. They are dark, steel-gray to blue-gray in color with a paler, sometimes pinkish, underside. Their heads are short and square shaped. Juveniles have a slightly more pointed head. These whales have a false gill behind each eye. Their snouts overlap their tiny lower jaws that contain 20 to 32 long, sharp teeth. There are no teeth in the upper jaw. They have broad short flippers located far forward of the body and the tail is broad with a slight notch in the middle. Their blowholes are positioned slightly to the left. They are slightly bigger than the dwarf sperm whale. Adults reach 2.7 to 3.4m (9 - 11.25 ft), newborns are about 1.2m (4ft) long. They are also heavier than dwarf sperm whales. Adults weigh 315 to 400kg (695 - 880lb), newborns about 55kg (120lb). They seem to rise to the surface slowly and deliberately and, unlike most other small whales, slip below the surface like a stone. When startled, pygmy sperm whales may discharge a reddish brown fluid and then dive, leaving behind a dense cloud in the water to disappear behind. This may act as a decoy to help them get away, like a squid uses ink.


Mainly squid but they will eat fish and crustaceans.


They tend to live a long distance from shore and seem to prefer warmer waters; there are records from all temperate, subtropical and tropical seas. However, most information about their distribution is from strandings.

Population estimates:



Environmental changes.

Interesting facts:

Like dwarf sperm whales, when these animals strand, they look a little like a shark. This is due to the shape of their jaw, and the fact that they have false gills behind their eyes.

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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