Kogia breviceps 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Physeteridae

Scientific Name: Kogia breviceps (Blainville, 1838)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Pygmy Sperm Whale
French Cachalot pygmée
Spanish Cachalote Cabeza Chica, Cachalote Pigmeo
Taxonomic Notes: Only one species of the genus Kogia (K. breviceps) was recognized until 1966, when studies clearly showed the Pygmy and Dwarf (K. sima) Sperm Whales to be distinct species (Handley 1966, Chivers et al. 2005).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Data Deficient ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2008-07-01
Assessor(s): Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J.K.B., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L.
Reviewer(s): Hammond, P.S. & Perrin, W.F.
There is considerable uncertainty about the status of this species, which may span a range from Least Concern to a threatened category. There is no information on abundance or on trends in global abundance. As a relatively uncommon species it is potentially vulnerable to low-level threats and a 30% global reduction over three generations (36 years; Taylor et al. 2007) cannot be ruled out.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Pygmy Sperm Whales are known from deep waters (outer continental shelf and beyond) in tropical to warm temperate zones of all oceans (McAlpine 2002). This species appears to prefer somewhat more temperate waters than does the Dwarf Sperm Whale. The range of Kogia breviceps is poorly known, though a lack of records of live animals may be more due to inconspicuous behaviour rather than rarity. Most information stems from strandings (especially females with calves), which may give an inaccurate picture of the actual distribution at sea (Culik 2004).

The map shows where the species may occur based on oceanography. The species has not been recorded for all the states within the hypothetical range as shown on the map. States for which confirmed records of the species exist are included in the list of native range states. States within the hypothetical range but for which no confirmed records exist are included in the Presence Uncertain list.
Countries occurrence:
American Samoa; Angola; Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina; Aruba; Australia (Tasmania); Bahamas; Bangladesh; Barbados; Belgium; Belize; Benin; Bermuda; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (Saba, Sint Eustatius); Brazil; British Indian Ocean Territory; Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia; Cameroon; Canada (Nova Scotia); Cape Verde; Cayman Islands; Chile (Juan Fernández Is.); China; Christmas Island; Cocos (Keeling) Islands; Colombia; Comoros; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Cook Islands; Costa Rica; Côte d'Ivoire; Cuba; Curaçao; Denmark; Djibouti; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Equatorial Guinea; Fiji; France; French Guiana; French Polynesia; Gabon; Gambia; Germany; Ghana; Gibraltar; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guam; Guatemala; Guernsey; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Ireland; Isle of Man; Jamaica; Japan (Honshu); Jersey; Kenya; Kiribati; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Liberia; Macao; Madagascar; Malaysia; Maldives; Marshall Islands; Martinique; Mauritania; Mauritius; Mayotte; Mexico; Micronesia, Federated States of ; Montserrat; Morocco; Mozambique; Myanmar; Namibia; Nauru; Netherlands; New Caledonia; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; Niue; Norfolk Island; Northern Mariana Islands; Oman; Pakistan; Palau; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Peru; Philippines; Pitcairn; Portugal (Azores); Puerto Rico; Réunion; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Pierre and Miquelon; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Samoa; Sao Tomé and Principe; Senegal; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Solomon Islands; Somalia; South Africa (Eastern Cape Province, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape Province, Western Cape); Spain; Sri Lanka; Suriname; Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Timor-Leste; Togo; Tokelau; Tonga; Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos Islands; Tuvalu; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States (Hawaiian Is., Washington); Uruguay; Vanuatu; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Viet Nam; Virgin Islands, British; Virgin Islands, U.S.; Wallis and Futuna; Western Sahara; Yemen
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – western central; Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – northeast; Atlantic – northwest; Atlantic – southeast; Atlantic – southwest; Indian Ocean – western; Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – western central; Pacific – eastern central; Pacific – northeast; Pacific – southeast; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – southwest
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:There are no estimates of global abundance. Abundance of this and similar whales is often underestimated using visual survey methods because they dive for long periods and are inconspicuous when they surface (Barlow 1999). The frequency with which they strand in some areas (such as Florida and South Africa) suggests that they may not always be as uncommon as sightings would suggest. Recent genetic studies suggest the there is some gene flow between the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific oceans (S. J. Chivers pers. comm.).

Delineations between stocks are often difficult to determine, therefore assessments should be considered ongoing processes. In the case of the Pygmy Sperm Whale, concern that sightings may be confused with the cogener K. sima (the Dwarf Sperm Whale) further complicates the estimation of abundance. There are estimated to be about 247 (CV = 106%) off California, Oregon, and Washington (Barlow 2003); 7,251 (CV=77%) off Hawaii (Barlow 2006); 742 of both species of Kogia (CV=29%) in the northern Gulf of Mexico (Mullin et al. 2004); and 395 of both species (CV=40/75%) in the western North Atlantic (Waring et al. 2006).
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Kogia breviceps is rarely seen at sea; it tends to live a long distance from shore and has inconspicuous habits. According to Caldwell and Caldwell (1989) K. breviceps lives in oceanic waters beyond the edge of the continental shelf while K. sima lives over or near the edge of the shelf. However, this separation was not apparent in the study by Mullin et al. (1994) who, by aerial observation, found both species over water depths of 400–600 m in the north-central Gulf of Mexico. These waters of the upper continental slope were also characterized by high zooplankton biomass (Baumgartner et al. 2001).

Studies of feeding habits, based on stomach contents of stranded animals, suggest that this species feeds in deep water, primarily on cephalopods and, less often, on deep-sea fishes and shrimps (dos Santos and Haimovici 2001, McAlpine et al. 1997). In South Africa, they take at least 67 different prey species and appear to feed in deeper waters than do Dwarf Sperm Whales (Ross 1979).

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: It is hunted on a small scale in a few places.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Although they have never been taken in large numbers and have never been hunted commercially, small numbers of the species have been taken in coastal whaling operations off Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Lesser Antilles, and Sri Lanka (Jefferson et al. 1993).

A few have been killed in gillnet fisheries of Sri Lanka, Taiwan and California, and it is likely they are killed in gillnets elsewhere as well (Jefferson et al. 1993; Barlow et al. 1997). Perez et al. (2001) reported on occasional bycatch in fisheries in the northeast Atlantic (mostly gillnet and purse seine operations). However, although it is taken in small numbers both directly and incidentally in fisheries, Baird et al. (1996) found no serious threats to its status.

A young male Pygmy Sperm Whale stranded alive on Galveston Island, Texas, USA and died in a holding tank 11 days later. During necropsy, the first two stomach compartments (forestomach and fundic chamber) were found to be completely occluded by various plastic bags (Laist et al. 1999). Such ingestion of plastics, with associated gut-blockage, appears to be a common issue in this species.

This species, like 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).

In 2005, a large series of unusual stranding events over about 3 weeks in and around Taiwan included several Kogia (Wang and Yang 2006; Yang et al. 2008) with at least two Pygmy Sperm Whales (Yang et al. 2008). It is unknown if military, seismic or other loud noise-producing human activities resulted in these strandings.

There are high levels of unexplained strandings in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast of Florida (Waring et al. 2006).

Predicted impacts of global climate change on the marine environment may affect Pygmy Sperm Whales, 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 determine the impact of threats on this species.

Classifications [top]

10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.1. Marine Oceanic - Epipelagic (0-200m)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
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 -> 11.5. Other impacts
♦ timing:Future    

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

♦  Food - human
 Local : ✓   National : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

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Citation: Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J.K.B., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L. 2012. Kogia breviceps. In: . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T11047A17692192. . Downloaded on 25 June 2018.
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