Marine Mammal Stranding Database

Marine Mammal Species Description

Pygmy Sperm Whale

Kogia breviceps

(Blainville, 1838)


Order: Cetacea
Family: Kogiidae
Alternate Common Names:

Status: protected under MMPA


   Length: 8.9-11.2 ft (2.7-3.4 m); maximum 12.5 ft (3.8 m)
   Weight: 701-900 lbs (318-408 kg); maximum 992 lbs (450 kg)

Pygmy sperm whales are dark gray-blue, black, or brownish-black above, which fades to a lighter gray to white below. Just behind the eye above the flippers they often have a paler crescent of color that looks like a gill slit. They are a robust species and have a large bulbous head and snout that is protrudes beyond the underslung lower jaw. They only have teeth on their lower jaw. They have a small, falcate dorsal fin that is located on the back half of their body.


Pygmy sperm whales tend to occur in warmer deep waters beyond the continental shelf. This species is seen by itself or in schools of 1-6 individuals.


Pygmy sperm whales eat mostly squid, but also eat some fish and crustaceans.


Both males and females can reach sexual maturity around 8.9 ft (2.7 m), although males tend to be slightly longer when they reach maturity. Gestation period is from 9-11 months. Calves are weaned after about one year.


Observers rarely see this species in the wild; therefore, information about it is limited. This species uses a defense mechanism, like in octopus; they conceal their location by clouding the water. They do this by defecating. This large cloud of reddish-brown waste blurs the view of a potential predator. After defecating, they typically dive away.

Distribution / Range:

These whales occur in temperate and tropical waters worldwide. Off the coasts of the United States, it is documented from most of the east and west coasts including the Gulf of Mexico.

Similar species:

The most similar species is the dwarf sperm whale, Kogia simus. Pygmy sperm whales are larger and have a smaller dorsal fin. These two species also have a different number of teeth (10-16 pairs in K. breviceps and 7-12 pairs in K. simus). These two species are difficult to tell apart in the wild, even by professionals.



American Cetacean Society. 2004. American Cetacean Society Fact Sheet. Accessed January 2012.

Culik, B. 2010. Odontocetes. The toothed whales: "Kogia breviceps". UNEP/CMS Secretariat, Bonn, Germany. Accessed January 2012.

Potter, C.W. and B. Birchler. 1999. Pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps. In The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Wilson, D.E. and S. Ruff, eds., 301-302. Smithsonian Institution in association with the American Society of Mammologists, Washington DC.

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. Kogia breviceps. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. Downloaded on 09 January 2012.