information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.
Only coastal and marine records shown



Hyperoodon ampullatus 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. The Northern bottlenose whale is a large beaked whale that can reach up to 10 m in length. The lower jaw has a single pair of teeth (exposed only in adult males). It has a very distinct beak and a very steep, often bulbous forehead. It has a dark grey to chocolate brown dorsal and lateral colouration and somewhat lighter below. Much of the face may be light grey in colour. Adults are often covered with scratches and scars.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Has been found at several locations around the British Isles but more expected off north-west Scotland.

Global distribution



The northern bottlenose whale is an offshore species. It may be seen breathing at the surface or diving down to a depth of up to 1,000 m.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Up to 10 m in length.
  • Small dorsal fin two-thirds down the body.
  • High bulged forehead and well-demarcated beak.
  • Pair of V-shaped throat grooves.
  • Mouthline curved up at the rear.

Additional information

The northern bottlenose whale may be confused with Cuvier's beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris but can be recognised by having a very distinct beak and a very steep, often bulbous forehead. Northern bottlenose whales are usually found in small pods of 4 to 35 individuals, with some degree of either age or sex segregation. It can be seen, on occasion, to leap clear out of the water. Dives may last up to 2 hours long (Kinze, 2002).

Listed by

Further information sources

Search on:


  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. National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas website. Available from:  Accessed 01 April 2017

  6. OBIS,  2018. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2018-09-19

  7. 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.


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Hyperoodon ampullatus Northern bottlenose whale. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 19-09-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 02/06/2008