Peponocephala electra 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Delphinidae

Scientific Name: Peponocephala electra (Gray, 1846)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Melon-headed Whale
French Péponocéphale
Spanish Calderón Pequeño, Electra
Electra electra (Gray, 1846)
Lagenorhynchus electra Gray, 1846

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L.
Reviewer(s): Hammond, P.S. & Perrin, W.F. (Cetacean Red List Authority)
Global trend or abundance data for this species are unavailable, however, abundance is at least 50,000. Threats that could cause widespread declines include high levels of anthropogenic sound, especially military sonar and seismic surveys, and localized competition with fisheries. The combination of the high global abundance and a large pan-tropical range with possible declines driven by more localized threats is believed sufficient to rule out a 30% global reduction over three generations (criterion A).
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Melon-headed whales have a pantropical distribution (Perryman 2002). The distribution coincides almost exactly with that of the pygmy killer whale in tropical/subtropical oceanic waters between about 40°N and 35°S (Jefferson and Barros 1997). A few high-latitude strandings are thought to be extralimital records, and are generally associated with incursions of warm water. These include specimens from Cornwall in England, Cape Province in South Africa, and Maryland, USA (Perryman et al. 1994; Rice 1998).
Countries occurrence:
American Samoa; Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; Australia; Bahamas; Bangladesh; Barbados; Belize; Benin; Bermuda; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (Saba, Sint Eustatius); Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia; Cameroon; Cayman Islands; Cocos (Keeling) Islands; Colombia; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Cook Islands; Costa Rica; Côte d'Ivoire; Cuba; Curaçao; Djibouti; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Equatorial Guinea; Fiji; French Guiana; French Polynesia; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guam; Guatemala; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; India; Indonesia; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Jamaica; Japan; Kenya; Kiribati; Liberia; Madagascar; Malaysia; Maldives; Marshall Islands; Martinique; Mauritania; Mayotte; Mexico; Micronesia, Federated States of ; Mozambique; Myanmar; Namibia; Nauru; New Caledonia; Nicaragua; Nigeria; Niue; Northern Mariana Islands; Oman; Pakistan; Palau; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Peru; Philippines; Pitcairn; Puerto Rico; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Samoa; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Solomon Islands; Somalia; South Africa; Sri Lanka; Suriname; Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Timor-Leste; Togo; Tonga; Trinidad and Tobago; United States; Vanuatu; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Viet Nam; Virgin Islands, British; Virgin Islands, U.S.; Wallis and Futuna; Western Sahara; Yemen
France; Morocco
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – southeast; Atlantic – western central; Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – southwest; Atlantic – northwest; Indian Ocean – western; Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – western central; Pacific – southwest; Pacific – eastern central; Pacific – southeast
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:This species is relatively common in some areas of its range, such as parts of the Philippines, and is regularly seen in waters around the Hawaiian Islands and around some archipelagos in the western tropical Pacific (such as the Tuamotus-Marquesas Islands). Only a few abundance estimates are available, however.

There are estimates of 45,400 (CV=47%) animals in the eastern tropical Pacific (Wade and Gerrodette 1993); 3,451 (CV = 55%) in the Gulf of Mexico (Mullin and Fulling 2004); 2,947 animals (CV = 111%) in Hawaii (Barlow 2006); and 921 (CV = 80%) in the eastern Sulu Sea, Philippines (Dolar et al. 2006). Photo-identification data from the Hawaiian Islands indicate some site fidelity, with repeated re-sightings of individuals, although movements among the main Hawaiian Islands have been documented (Huggins et al. 2005; Baird pers. comm.).

There is no information on trends in the global abundance of this species.
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Most sightings are from the continental shelf seaward, and around oceanic islands; they are rarely found in temperate waters. However, they do occur in some nearshore areas where deep water approaches the coast (see Watkins et al. 1997; Wang et al. 2001a, b). In the eastern tropical Pacific, the distribution of reported sightings suggests that the oceanic habitat of this species is primarily in the upwelling modified and equatorial waters (Perryman et al. 1994).

Little is known of the diet of this species, though they are known to feed on several species of squid, shrimp and small fish.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Although there is considerable controversy regarding the absolute level of declines, there is good evidence of large-scale reductions in many predatory fish populations (e.g., Baum et al. 2003; Sibert et al. 2006) and over-fishing and collapse of several important “prey” fish stocks world-wide (e.g., Jackson et al. 2001). The effects of such fish population reductions and subsequent ecosystem changes on world-wide populations of melon-headed whales are unknown but could result in population declines.

Predicted impacts of global climate change on the marine environment may affect melon-headed whales, although the nature of impacts is unclear (Learmonth et al. 2006).

Although no regular, large hunts are known, this species is taken occasionally in the subsistence fishery for small cetaceans near the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, in Taiwan and in the Japanese dolphin drive fishery. They continue to be taken in a long-lived and well-established harpoon fishery for sperm whales and various small cetaceans near Lamalera, Indonesia. Four melon-headed whales were taken during the 1982 fishing season. Small-boat fisherman also occasionally harpoon or net this species near Sri Lanka and in the Philippines (Jefferson et al. 1993; Perryman et al. 1994). Dolar et al. (1994) investigated the fisheries for marine mammals in central and southern Visayas, northern Mindanao and Palawan, Philippines. Hunters at several sites took melon-headed whales for bait or human consumption. Whales are taken by hand harpoons or, increasingly, by togglehead harpoon shafts shot from modified, rubber-powered spear guns. Around 800 cetaceans of various species are taken annually by hunters at the seven sites, mostly during the inter-monsoonal period of February-May.

Mortality from incidental captures in the purse-seine fishery for yellowfin tuna in the eastern tropical Pacific will probably continue at a very low level (Perryman et al. 1994). Information is scant, but at least small numbers of these pelagic animals are known to be taken in nets throughout the tropics. Especially considering that bycatch of small cetaceans in general is a large and growing problem in Asia (Perrin et al. 2002), low numbers of reports may be misleading. However, no particular conservation problem has been identified.

This species, like other beaked whales, is likely to be vulnerable to loud anthropogenic sounds, such as those generated by navy sonar and seismic exploration (Cox et al. 2006). An anomalous movement of melon-headed whales into a bay in Hawaii was associated with military sonar (Southall et al. 2006), and the frequency of mass stranding events for this species have increased in the last 30 years (Brownell et al. 2006).

Evidence from stranded individuals of several similar species indicates that they have swallowed discarded plastic items, which may eventually lead to death (e.g. Scott et al. 2001); this species may also be at risk.

Predicted impacts of global climate change on the marine environment may affect this species of whale, although the nature of impacts is unclear (Learmonth et al. 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The species is listed in Appendix II of CITES. Research is needed to assess the impacts of potential threatening processes.

Classifications [top]

10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.1. Marine Oceanic - Epipelagic (0-200m)
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.2. Marine Oceanic - Mesopelagic (200-1000m)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.3. Marine Oceanic - Bathypelagic (1000-4000m)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.1. Habitat shifting & alteration
♦ timing:Future    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

9. Pollution -> 9.4. Garbage & solid waste
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

9. Pollution -> 9.6. Excess energy -> 9.6.3. Noise pollution
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Barlow, J. 2006. Cetacean abundance in Hawaiian waters estimated from a summer/fall survey in 2002. Marine Mammal Science 22(2): 446-464.

Baum, J. K., Myers, R. A., Kehler, D. G., Word, B., Harley, S. J. and Doherty, P. A. 2003. Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the Northwest Atlantic. Science 299: 389-392.

Brownell Jr., R. L., Yamada, T., Mead, J. G. and Allen, B. M. 2006. Mass strandings of melon-headed whales, Peponocephala electra: A worldwide review.

Dolar, M. L. L., Leatherwood, S., Wood, C. J., Alava, M. N. R., Hill, C. L. and Arangones, L. V. 1994. Directed fisheries for cetaceans in the Philippines. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 44: 439-449.

Dolar, M. L. L., Perrin, W. F., Taylor, B. L., Kooyman, G. L. and Alava, M. N. R. 2006. Abundance and distributional ecology of cetaceans in the central Philippines. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 8(1): 93-112.

Huggins, J., Baird, R. W., Webster, D. L., Mcsweeney, D. J., Schorr, G. S. and Lignon, A. D. 2005. Inter-island movements and re-sightings of melon-headed whales within the Hawaiian archipelago. 16th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. San Diego, California, USA.

Jackson, J. B. C., Kirby, M. X., Berger, W. H., Bjorndal, K. A., Botsford, L. W., Bourque, B. J., Bradbury, R. H., Cooke, R., Erlandson, J., Estes, J. A., Hughes, T. P., Kidwell, S., Lange, C. B., Lenihan, H. S., Pandolfi, J. M., Peterson, C. H., Steneck, R. S., Tegner, M. J. and Warner, R. R. 2001. Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293: 629-637.

Jefferson, T. A. and Barros, N. B. 1997. Peponocephala electra. Mammalian Species 553: 1-6.

Jefferson, T. A., Leatherwood, S. and Webber, M. A. 1993. Marine Mammals of the World: FAO Species Identification Guide. United Nation Environment Programme and Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN.

Learmonth, J.A., Macleod, C.D., Santos, M.B., Pierce, G.J., Crick, H.Q.P. and Robinson, R.A. 2006. Potential effects of climate change on marine mammals. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 44: 431-464.

Miyazaki, N., Fujise, Y. and Iwata, K. 1998. Biological analysis of a mass stranding of melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra) at Aoshima, Japan. Bulletin of the National Science Museum, Tokyo 24A: 31-60.

Mullin, K. D. and Fulling, G. L. 2004. Abundance of cetaceans in the oceanic northern Gulf of Mexico, 1996-2001. Marine Mammal Science 20(4): 787-807.

Perrin, W. F. 2002. Problems of marine mammal conservation in Southeast Asia. Fisheries Science 68: 238-243.

Perryman, W. L. 2002. Melon-headed whale Peponocephala electra. In: W. F. Perrin, B. Wursig and J. G. M. Thewissen (eds), Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, pp. 733-735. Academic Press.

Perryman, W. L., Au, D. W. K., Leatherwood, S. and Jefferson, T. A. 1994. Melon-headed whale Peponocephala electra Gray, 1846. In: S. H. Ridgway and R. Harrison (eds), Handbook of marine mammals, Volume 5: The first book of dolphins, pp. 363-386. Academic Press.

Rice, D.W. 1998. Marine Mammals of the World: Systematics and Distribution. Society for Marine Mammalogy, Lawrence, Kansas.

Scott, M. D., Hohn, A. A., Westgate, A. J., Nicolas, J. R., Whitaker, B. R. and Campbell, W. B. 2001. A note on the release and tracking of a rehabilitated pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps). Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 3(1): 87-94.

Sibert, J., Hampton, J., Kleiber, P. and Maunder, M. 2006. Biomass, size, and trophic status of top predators in the Pacific Ocean. Science 314: 1773-1776.

Southall, B. L., Braun, R., Gulland, F. M. D., Heard, A. D., Baird, R. W., Wilkin, S. and Rowles, T. K. 2006. Hawaiian melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra) mass stranding event of July 3-4, 2004. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-OPR 31: 73 pp.

Wade, P. R. and Gerrodette, T. 1993. Estimates of cetacean abundance and distribution in the eastern tropical Pacific. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 43: 477-493.

Wang, J. Y., Yang, S. C. and Liao, H. C. 2001. Records of melon-headed whales, Peponocephala electra (Gray, 1846), from the waters of Taiwan. Bulletin of the National Museum of Natural Science 14: 85-92.

Wang, J. Y., Yang, S. C. and Liao, H. C. 2001. Species composition, distribution and relative abundance of cetaceans in the waters of southern Taiwan: Implications for conservation and eco-tourism. Journal of the National Parks of Taiwan 11: 136-158.

Watkins, W. A., Daher, M. A., Samuels, A. and Gannon, D. P. 1997. Observations of Peponocephala electra, the melon-headed whale, in the southeastern Caribbean. Caribbean Journal of Science 33: 34-40.

Citation: Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L. 2008. Peponocephala electra. In: . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T16564A6077027. . Downloaded on 20 June 2018.
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