Roseneath’s dead Pygmy Sperm whale

Roseneath’s dead Pygmy Sperm whale

So I’m at my desk when my cell rings – its Anton (you know – our Collection Manager Marine Mammals)…

“Do you wanna see a dead whale?”

Of course! So off I trot (nice and quicksmart in time with whatever’s playing on my MP3) – not even worrying about what the Wellington wind was doing to my hair… you can’t turn your nose up to this kind of opportunity!

Anton pointing down to the washed up dead whale.
Anton pointing down to the washed up dead whale.

And there it was – I wasn’t too sure what I was expecting but this poor creature had been dead at least a couple of days, so it wasn’t in the best shape. It had been battered around by waves, dashed against rocks, pecked and chewed by various creatures.

Myfirst view of the dead Pygmy Sperm whale
My first view of the dead Pygmy Sperm whale

DoC had been contacted – their plan was to tow it back out to open sea – a floating restaurant for lots of happy sea creatures.

Two things I have learnt about a Pygmy sperm whale – notice three-quarters of the way towards its tail there’s discolouring in the water – I thought it was blood… its ink! We think they squirt ink out much like a squid does to confuse and escape from predators.

The other thing (although it has decomposed so much you couldn’t see it) is that these whales have markings just behind their heads that imitate gills. So, from a distance they could be mistaken for great white sharks.

The sneaky camouflage whale!

Measurements were taken (have just been told it was 3.2 metres long) and samples collected which will help us figure out its age and genetic make-up.

By this time critical mass of onlookers had been achieved so passers by were now stopping to see what the go was. Of course nobody had been interested when it was just Anton and myself 🙂 All those people walked on by who missed this opportunity… hence the blog! Too exciting and interesting not to share!


  1. mmmm – have just read my text from 18 July. Its not clear to readers (only in my head – happens a lot) that Anton’s answer finished with:
    (Species – Balaenoptera acutorostrata southern form).

    and then the text after that is me again – apologies!

  2. Hey Mark!

    apologies for not getting back to you earlier. It’s great to see we have regular visitors – and even better when they link our blog to theirs 🙂 I enjoyed reading yours. Hopefully you’ve been and read Chris’s latest on the squid.

    I asked Anton regarding your question – here’s his reply:
    Pygmy is of course just a word used to describe a diminutive form, There is a Pygmy blue whale (sub-species of Blue whale Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda), There is the Pygmy Killer whale (Species – Feresa attenuata), Pygmy Sperm whale (Species- Kogia breviceps…but note there is also a Dwarf Sperm whale (Species – Kogia sima)), Pygmy right whale (Species – Caperea marginata), Pygmy or lesser beaked whale (also known as Peruvian Beaked whale, Species – Mesoplodon peruvianus), there is a Dwarf Minke whale (Species – Balaenoptera acutorostrata southern form).

    I guess what I learnt when we did the dissection was that a lot of these names are old – and based on external characterisitics. So if it looked like a mini-me sperm whale then inserting ‘pygmy’ into the name seemed the way to go. With genetic analysis these days I think scientists are finding that some animals bearing similar external features (and therefore names) are really quite distantly related.

    I like how we’re still finding out stuff and that we can still be surprised sometimes 🙂

  3. First a pygmy right whale, now a pygmy sperm whale. I’d never come accross these untill I became a regular visitor to your site and blogs. (Blame the Squid!)
    So my question is, how many of the whales have ‘pygmy’ varieties? Are they actually different species or sub-species of the main type?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *