Cetaceans of the Mediterranean Sea

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

The Cuvier’s beaked whale holds the record for the deepest and longest dive for any mammal, being able to stay underwater for three hours and 42 minutes at depths that can reach nearly 3,000 meters. It is one of the larger members of the baked whales in the Ziphiidae family. The Latin name, Ziphius cavirostris, refers to the sharply pointed rostrum xiphias, and to a deep hollow cavum found at the base of it in adult males.

The body is large, robust and cigar-shaped, with a triangular falcate dorsal fin located far down the animal’s back. There isn’t difference in length between sexes, with an average adult size of 6 m. They can weight up to 3 t. The body of adult males is generally dark gray with the head being significantly paler or even white. Females vary in color from dark grey to reddish brown. There are two teeth, in males only, located at tip of lower jaw.

  • Scientific name: Ziphius cavirostris
  • Common name: Cuvier’s Beaked Whale
  • Suborder: Odontoceti
  • Family: Ziphiidae
  • Genus: Ziphius
  • Species: Ziphius cavirostris
  • Habitat: Pelagic zone
Cuvier’s Beaked Whale FAR


Cuvier’s Beaked Whale CLOSE


Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

Habitat and distribution

Cuvier’s beaked whales are widely distributed, from cool polar temperate to subtropical and tropical waters. They prefer deep offshore waters and steep continental slopes. It is the only species of beaked whales commonly occurring in the Mediterranean, where key areas of high density are the Alboran sea, the Ligurian sea and the central Tyrrhenian sea. They have also been reported in Albania, Algeria, Croatia, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Malta, Spain and Turkey.


Cuvier’s beaked whales feed at incredible depths, up to 3,000 meters, and most feeding occurs near the seabed. They use suction feeding to capture prey, that include a wide variety of squid (at least 47 different species!) and sometimes deep-sea fish and crustaceans. Studies show that they use echolocation for foraging mostly below 500 m.


Since they live in deep waters, spending a lot of time underwater for feeding, Cuvier’s beaked whales are hard to find because they spend only short periods at the surface to breathe. They are typically found individually or in small groups (2-7 whales). Males are the most likely solitary animals.  They are very sensitive to anthropogenic noise and tend to avoid vessels, but they can be quite inquisitive in some areas, including the Mediterranean Sea.

Lifespan and reproduction

Cuvier’s beaked whales reach sexual maturity usually between seven to eleven years of age for both sexes. Breeding and calving can occur year-round, peaking in the spring. After a year of gestation, females give birth to a single calf every two to three years. Newborn are bluish-grey or brownish on the upper side. They are about 2,7 m long and weight 300 kg. They have an estimated lifespan of up to 60 years.


  • Hunting: Cuvier's beaked whales are still captured by the Japanese fisheries
  • Ocean noise: They are more sensitive to the impact of naval sonar and seismic exploration than any other species of cetaceans. Strandings and groundings often occur near naval bases where sonar have been used. Recent atypical mass strandings of beaked whales have been linked to high-powered seismic exploration.
  • Pollution: plastic debris is often found in the stomach of this species. In some areas, they are found entangled in deepwater drifting nets and other fishing equipment.

Cetaceans of the Mediterranean Sea

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