Pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps)

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



Kogia breviceps is a toothed whale and can be recognised as such by the single blowhole and the presence of teeth. It is an easily recognisable small whale with a stocky body reaching up to 4 m in length. It has a large and distinctly square upper jaw which projects above the narrow lower jaw. The blowhole is positioned at the front of the head and directed forward obliquely. A small dorsal fin is present two-thirds down the body and the tail flukes are small. The flippers are almost spear-shaped. The body is blue-black to charcoal grey in colour, while the underside is white and the inside of the mouth and the lips are white. There is often a crescent-shaped, light mark between the eye and the flipper.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Only a few sightings off the east coasts of Scotland and England.

Global distribution



The pygmy sperm whale is an oceanic deep-sea species that may dive down to a few hundred metres in depth.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Up to 4 m in length.
  • Small dorsal fin two-thirds down the body.
  • The flippers are spear-shaped.
  • Moderately large square head with projecting lower jaw.
  • Narrow lower jaw with a white inside colouring to the mouth.
  • Forward pointing blowhole at the front left side of the head.
  • About 14 peg-like teeth in each side of the lower jaw.

Additional information

Pygmy sperm whales are usually found either alone, or in small groups of up to 5 individuals. The blow is unique amongst whales by being obliquely forward directed. The tail flukes will often appear before a deep dive. Dive duration is unknown (Kinze, 2002). It is often confused with the dwarf sperm whale, Kogia sima, but the dwarf sperm whale does not occur in British and Irish waters (Jefferson et al., 1994).


  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. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-06-12

  3. 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. Kogia breviceps Pygmy sperm 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 12-06-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 02/06/2008