Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



Ziphius cavirostris is a toothed whale and can be recognised as such by the single blowhole and the presence of teeth (rather than baleen). It is a member of the beaked whale family with the characteristic V-shaped crease on the throat and the short dorsal fin set relatively far back. Cuvier's beaked whale is a medium-sized beaked whale that can reach up to 7.5 m in length.The lower jaw has a single pair of teeth (exposed only in adult males). It has an indistinct beak and a concave forehead in front of the blowhole. Cuvier's beaked whale has a dark brown or grey dorsal and lateral colouration with lighter areas around the head and belly. Adults are often covered with a wide array of white scratches and scars.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Recorded off the coasts of the Outer Hebrides, south-east of the Shetlands, off the west coasts of County Cork and off the north-west coast of Ireland.

Global distribution



Cuvier's beaked whale is an oceanic deep-sea whale, diving to several hundred metres in depth.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Up to 7.5 m in length.
  • Small dorsal fin two-thirds down the body.
  • Indistinct beak.
  • Slightly concave top of the head.
  • Pair of V-shaped throat grooves.
  • Mouthline curved up at the rear.

Additional information

Cuvier's beaked whale may be confused with the northern bottlenose whale Hyperoodon ampullatus but can be recognised by its indistinct beak and its concave forehead. Cuvier's beaked whales are usually found in small groups of up to 7 individuals but may be seen alone. It rarely breeches, and when diving, it will often show the tail flukes. Dives may last up to 40 minutes long (Kinze, 2002).


  1. Bruyns, W.F.J.M., 1971. Field guide of whales and dolphins. Amsterdam: Publishing Company Tors.

  2. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  3. Jefferson, T.A., Leatherwood, S. & Webber, M.A., 1994. FAO species identification guide. Marine mammals of the world. Rome: United Nations Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

  4. Kinze, C. C., 2002. Photographic Guide to the Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  5. Reid. J.B., Evans. P.G.H., Northridge. S.P. (ed.), 2003. Atlas of Cetacean Distribution in North-west European Waters. Peterborough: Joint Nature Conservation Committee.


  1. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  2. Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service, 2017. NBIS Records to December 2016. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  3. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-05-18

  4. Outer Hebrides Biological Recording, 2018. Vertebrates (except birds, INNS and restricted records), Outer Hebrides. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  5. Whale and Dolphin Conservation, 2018. WDC Shorewatch Sightings. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Ziphius cavirostris Cuvier's beaked whale. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 18-05-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 02/06/2008