Marine Mammal Stranding Database

Marine Mammal Species Description

Melon-headed Whale

Peponocephala electra

(Gray, 1846)


Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Alternate Common Names: Blackfish

Status: protected under MMPA


   Length: 8.5 ft (2.6 m); maximum 9.2 ft (2.8 m)
   Weight: 500 lbs (228 kg)

Male melon-headed whales tend to be slightly bigger than females, with longer fins and flippers. When viewed from above, melon-headed whales have a triangular shaped head. They have a tall, falcate dorsal fin and pointed flippers. They are dark gray overall with lighter gray underneath, and white coloration on their lips. They have a dark cape that drops low on their sides under their dorsal fins, but the boundary between these colors are indistinct, the dark fading into the light.


Records for melon-headed whales suggest they prefer warmer, deep waters, from the continental shelf and deeper. When seen closer to the coasts, they are commonly in areas where deep water is located closer to shore. Melon-headed whales are commonly seen in large schools of 100-500 individuals. The maximum school size recorded was 2,000 individuals. They are also known to school with species of dolphins and short-finned pilot whales.


Melon-headed whales eat mostly squid, but also eat some shrimp and fish.


Adult females reach sexual maturity around 12 years old and males around 15 years old. The length of gestation is likely around one year.


The maximum reported life span of a melon-headed whale is over 30 years old.

Distribution / Range:

Melon-headed whales occur in the tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. Off the coast of the United States, records are limited to the Gulf of Mexico and offshore of the southeastern United States. Occasional records farther north on the east coast of the United States corresponds with warm water areas.

Similar species:

Similar species include pygmy killer whales and false killer whales both of which have rounded heads when viewed from above and have rounded tips to their flippers.



Baird, R.W. 2010. Pygmy killer whales (Feresa attenuata) or false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens)? Identification of a group of small cetaceans seen off Ecuador in 2003. Aquatic Mammals 36: 326-327.

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

Perryman, W.L. 2009. Melon-Headed Whale - Peponocephala electra. In: Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals 2nd Ed. Perrin W.F., B. Würsig, and J.G.M. Thewissen, eds. Academic Press, New York, pp. 719-721.

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