~ The Melon-Headed Whale ~

COMMON NAMES AND SPECIES: Melonheaded Whale; Many-Toothed Blackfish; Little Killer Whale; Electra Dolphin; Melonhead Whale. The Melon-Headed Whale was initally thought to be a Lagenorhynchus dolphin until two North Pacific specimens were examined in the 1960s. In 1966, Nishiwaki and Norris created the new genus Peponocephala ('melon-head') specifically for this species. Not closely related to other cetaceans, the Melon-Headed Whale is generally accepted as an 'outcast' member of the 'Blackfish' family.

DESCRIPTION: The Melon-Headed Whale is a small species, with a pointed, melon-shaped head (which gave them their name) and slender body. The dorsal fin is high and curved. The body colour is dark grey, bluish-black or dark brown, often with a dark strip that travels from the head to the dorsal and down onto the flanks. Occasionally there is a dark 'mask' on the face. The lips are white. An 'anchor' shaped patch of lighter color is present between the flippers extending towards the throat. There are 20-25 pairs of small, slender teeth on both the upper and lower jaws. This cetacean reaches a maximum length of about 9 feet and a maximum weight of about 590 pounds. At sea, melon-headed whales are often difficult to distinguish from pygmy killer whales.

GROUP SIZE AND BEHAVIOR: The typical family unit contains between 100-500 individuals, and occasionally can reach as many as 2,000. Melon-Headed Whales are an excitable species and have proven to be rapid swimmers. They are often seen swimming with other species, particularly Fraserís dolphins, spotted dolphins and spinner dolphins. They often swim at high speeds and often bow-ride, sometimes displacing other species from the bow wave. Mass strandings are common with this species, although scientists have yet to prove why this occurs.

HABITAT: Melon-Headed Whales are found in the northern and southern hemispheres and tend to prefer subtropical and tropical waters, particularly those that are deep and in the open ocean. They are rarely found in warm temperate and enclosed waters.

FOOD: Melon-Headed Whales are thought to prey mainly upon squid and small fish.

LONGEVITY AND POPULATION SIZE: It is unknown how long the melon-headed whale lives and their exact numbers are also not known.

UNNATURAL DANGERS: Melon-Headed Whales have been taken by Japanese fishermen in the past decades, and many are killed from entrapments in fishing gear. Some have also been taken into captivity, but not for longer than 17 months due to their temperament.

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