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Top 5 Smallest Whale Species in the World

Errah is a bookwormy and logophilic writer and science & technology teacher. He often writes about scientific ideas, theories, and research.

Read on to learn about the world’s smallest whales, including some that are even smaller than the average dolphin.

Read on to learn about the world’s smallest whales, including some that are even smaller than the average dolphin.

Whales are known to be the largest animals to have ever lived on the planet. One of the species, blue whales, can grow to be around 100 feet long and weigh up to 150 tons. They are around twice as big as the largest dinosaur. The blue whale is nearly twice as long as the prehistoric megalodon.

Fin and sperm whales are also extremely large at 90 and 67 feet, respectively. Sperm whales are also the largest toothed whale. But, did you know that not all whales are giant? Some species are even smaller than dolphins. In this article, we'll take a look at the top 5 smallest whale species in the world.

5 Smallest Whales in the World

5. Perrin’s Beaked Whale

4. Hector’s Beaked Whale

3. Pygmy Beaked Whale

2. Pygmy Sperm Whale

1. Dwarf Sperm Whale

A line drawing of a Perrin’s beaked whale that compares its size to that of a human.

A line drawing of a Perrin’s beaked whale that compares its size to that of a human.

5. Perrin’s Beaked Whale

Perrin's beaked whales (Mesoplodon perrini) were only recently described as a new species in 2002, and they were discovered by chance after a couple of them, a mother and a calf became stranded on the California coast.

There isn't much information about these whales, because, so far, only six specimens have been examined and found, and, sadly, all of them were dead. These swimming mammals are only known for their carcasses that washed up on beaches. There has never been a living Perrin's beaked whale documented.

The distribution of these whales is unknown, but it is thought that they live along the Pacific coast of western North America. Their diet is also unknown, but based on the stomach contents of the specimen, they appear to feed primarily on squid. Marine biologists believe that, like other beaked whales, they feed on fishes and other types of marine invertebrates as well.

The Perrin’s beaked whales can be measured up to 4.4 meters (14.4 feet) in length with females growing slightly larger than their male counterparts. Their heads are small, with a round melon on top and a short "beak" or snout in the front. Their bodies are thick, and their caudal fins are small and triangular.

Males have a dark gray top and sides, while the underparts are light gray or white. Female coloration is unknown because the only female specimen found was decomposed. The calves are obscured by a dark mask on their faces.

A Hector’s beaked whale that washed up on a shore.

A Hector’s beaked whale that washed up on a shore.

4. Hector's Beaked Whale

The Hector’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon hectori) and Perrin’s beaked are nearly identical in appearance. The distinction between these two species is negligible. In fact, when Perrin's beaked whales were first discovered, they were mistakenly identified as Hector's beaked whales.

They have only a slight difference in their jaws’ bone structure and the arrangement of their teeth. Hector’s beaked whale is also a bit smaller on average than Perrin's beaked whale. Hector’s beaked whale has an average length of 4 meters (12-14) feet.

The size of both genders is the same, but their color patterns differ. The upper body of males is dark gray, while the lower body is light gray. Females, however, are light gray on top and white on the bottom.

Squid is their primary food. They catch their prey by sucking water along with their victims and swallowing them whole. They are found in the oceans and seas of the Southern Hemisphere, particularly in the southern temperate zone.

3. Pygmy Beaked Whale

Pygmy beaked whales (Mesoplodon peruvianus), also known as lesser beaked whales and Peruvian beaked whales, are native to Pacific waters off the coast of western Peru. They are generally recognized as the smallest species of beaked whales in the world.

Fully grown pygmy beaked whales can be measured between 3.4 and 3.7 meters (11-12 feet) long. The length of newborn calves is 1.6 meters (5.2 feet). Males appear to be larger than females.

Pygmy beaked whales have dark gray upper bodies and light gray lower bodies. They are distinguished from other beaked whale species by their teeth, which are extremely small and oval in cross-section.

They forage for squid, small fish, and other small marine invertebrates. These cetaceans prefer to live in tropical mid-deep and deep waters and only go up or swim to the surface of the sea to breathe.

A pygmy sperm whale stranded on a Florida beach

A pygmy sperm whale stranded on a Florida beach

2. Pygmy Sperm Whale

Pygmy sperm whales (Kogia breviceps), also called lesser cachalots, short-headed sperm whales, or lesser sperm whales, are one of two living species in the Kogiidae family, along with the dwarf sperm whale.

Pygmy sperm whales can reach 2.7 to 3 meters ( 8.8-9.8 feet) in length and weigh up to 425 kilograms ( 935 pounds). They are incredibly small compared to other species of whales, in fact, many of them are smaller than dolphins.

The whales have blue-gray upper bodies, flippers, and flukes. The sides are light gray, and their underbelly is white or pinkish. The head of pygmy sperm whales resembles the head of sharks. They also have gill-like slits between their heads and bodies that resemble shark gills. This characteristic is most likely an adaptation to mimic sharks, their primary predators.

Aside from that, the pygmy sperm whale has another defense mechanism. They produce ink like octopuses. The ink is red and is ejected from their anal opening. They then use their appendages to disperse the ink in the water, forming a large cloud that conceals them from their enemies.

They inhabit the tropical and subtropical zones of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. They are rarely seen in the seas and when they are, they are usually “logging,” or sleeping, resting, or floating on the surface of the water without making any movement.

These whales can dive to 300 meters (1000 feet), especially when looking for prey. They are known to consume a wide range of fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans.

1. Dwarf Sperm Whale

The dwarf sperm whales (Kogia sima) are widely regarded as the smallest whale species in the world. They can only reach lengths of 2 to 2.7 meters (6.6 to 8.6 feet).

In appearance, they are almost identical to pygmy sperm whales. They have the same color as pygmy sperm whales; they also have shark-like heads and false gills. They produce defense ink as well.

The shape of their dorsal fins, however, distinguishes them. The dorsal fins of pygmy sperm whales are hooked, whereas those of dwarf sperm whales are triangular. Pygmy sperm whales also have a hump on their backs, whereas dwarf sperm whales have a flat back.

Dwarf sperm whales are carnivorous. They mainly feed on squid but have been known to feed on fish and crustaceans. They can be found in both temperate and tropical bodies of water all around the world.

Example of Dwarf Sperm Whale Ink Defense

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Errah Caunca