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Overview

Distribution

Range Description

Shepherd's beaked whales are primarily known from a few dozen strandings, all south of 30°S, around New Zealand, southern Australia, southern South America, the Juan Fernandez Islands, and Tristan de Cunha (Mead 1989). There have been only a few sightings reported in the literature and the validity of most of those is suspect (or clearly erroneous. The confirmed sightings have been from south of Tasmania and in oceanic waters of the South Atlantic (Pitman et al. 2006). The majority of strandings have occurred in New Zealand. It is presumed that they have a circumpolar distribution in cold temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere (MacLeod et al. 2006). It is possible that the species may be somewhat more widespread than the records suggest, since it was not likely to be accurately identified at sea until its recent re-description (Pitman et al. 2006).
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Geographic Range

Although the geographic range of this species is not clearly known, Tasmacetus shepherdi (Shepherd's beaked whale, Tasman whale) probably has a circumpolar distribution in temperate waters of the southern hemisphere. All known specimens have been found on beaches in New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, Chile, and the Galapagos Islands (Evans 1987, Tinker 1988).

Biogeographic Regions: indian ocean (Native ); atlantic ocean (Native ); pacific ocean (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

The body of these whales is around 6-7 meters in length. The head is small with a long, narrow beak. The dorsal fin is small and is located 1/3 of the body length from the tail. The tail fluke is not notched, and the flippers are small and oval in shape. The back is uniform grayish-brown in color, fading to nearly white on the underbelly. Since very few of these whales have been seen while alive and body colors quickly darken following death, the true coloration of Tasmacetus shepherdi is not known (Evans 1987, Tinker 1988).

Shepherd's beaked whale can be easily distinguished from other members of the family Ziphiidae by the presence of 17-29 conical teeth in both the upper and lower jaw. Males possess two additional teeth on the anterior most part of the lower jaw. These teeth, described as possessing "bulbous bases and conical crowns", are larger than the homodont cheek teeth, and are separated from the cheek teeth by a 4 cm diastema. One tooth sits on either side of the mandibular symphysis (Walker 1975, Evans 1987, Tinker 1988).

The blowhole is crescent in shape and is asymmetrically located on the left side of the top of the head. The eye sits directly below the blowhole. The first five vertebrae are fused and the first through seventh pairs of ribs possess two heads (Evans 1987, Tinker 1988).

Range mass: 5600 to 6500 kg.

Range length: 6 to 7 m.

  • Evans, P. 1987. The Natural History of Whales and Dolphins. New York, New York: Facts on File Publications.
  • Walker, E. 1975. Mammals of the World. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Tinker, W. 1988. Whales of the World. New York, New York: E. J. Brill.
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Ecology

Habitat

cold temperate, oceanic
  • UNESCO-IOC Register of Marine Organisms
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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This species generally lives mainly far offshore, well away from coasts; however, where there is a narrow continental shelf, T. shepherdi may sometimes occur in deep water close to shore.

Shepherd’s beaked whales are known to feed on several species of fish (primarily eelpouts), as well as squid and crabs, possibly near the bottom in deep waters. This seems somewhat unusual, as most beaked whales appear to feed almost exclusively on cephalopods.

Systems
  • Marine
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Based on stomach contents and locations where Tasmacetus shepherdi have washed ashore, this species is likely benthic and inhabits temperate waters of the southern hemisphere (Evans 1987, Tinker 1988).

Aquatic Biomes: benthic

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

These whales eat squid and various fishes. Many of these fishes are benthic, suggesting that Tasmacetus shepherdi feeds at or near the sea floor (Tinker 1988).

Animal Foods: fish; mollusks

Primary Diet: carnivore (Molluscivore )

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Life History and Behavior

Reproduction

Nothing is currently known about the reproduction of this species.

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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
DD
Data Deficient

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L.

Reviewer/s
Hammond, P.S. & Perrin, W.F. (Cetacean Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
There is no information on abundance and no information on trends in global abundance for this species. As a relatively uncommon species it is potentially vulnerable to low-level threats and a 30% global reduction over three generations cannot be ruled out (criterion A).

History
  • 1996
    Data Deficient
  • 1994
    Insufficiently Known
    (Groombridge 1994)
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The IUCN lists Tasmacetus shepherdi under the "insufficiently known" category (Simmonds and Hutchinson 1996).

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: data deficient

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Population

Population
Shepherd’s beaked whale appears to be relatively rare, but there are no estimates of abundance available. The external appearance of the species was not well-known until it was re-described from several fresh specimens and at-sea sightings; this could lead to further refinement about its distribution and abundance (Pitman et al. 2006). Nothing is known about subpopulation structure.

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
No major threats are known for this species. As is true for most of the beaked whales, this species has never been hunted and fisheries interactions are not known.

Evidence from stranded individuals of Tasmacetus shepherdi indicated that they had swallowed discarded plastic items (reference?), which may eventually lead to death (e.g. Scott et al. 2001).

This species, like other 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).

Predicted impacts of global climate change on the marine environment may affect this species of whale, although the nature of impacts is unclear (Learmonth et al. 2006).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The species is listed on Appendix II of CITES. Research is needed to assess the impacts of potential threats on this species.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

none

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Tasmacetus shepherdi is not economically important.

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Risks

IUCN Red List Category

Data Deficient (DD)
  • IUCN (2008) Cetacean update of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
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Wikipedia

Shepherd's beaked whale

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Shepherd's Beaked Whale (Tasmacetus shepherdi) also commonly called the Tasman Beaked Whale or simply the Tasman Whale is a cetacean of the family Ziphidae. The whale has hardly been studied at all. No certain identification has been made at sea and only 28 specimens have been recorded stranded.

Contents

Physical description

Shepherd's Beaked Whale had a long beak which narrows to a pointed tip and a bluff melon. It is the only beaked whale with a full set of functional teeth. The body is about seven metres long and the dorsal fin is located about two-thirds the way along the back. The fin is falcate. The back is coloured dark brown to black with lighter patches running diagonally on the sides with a light underside.

Population and distribution

No population estimates exist for Shepherd's Beaked Whale. As of 2003, 20 stranded specimens had been collected from New Zealand, 3 from Argentina, 2 from the Juan Fernández, 1 from Australia and 1 from the Sandwich Islands. There have been two reports of live sightings - one in New Zealand and one from the Seychelles. On 5 March 2004 a twentieth-eighth stranding was found by a surfer on the coast of Taranaki in the north of Waitara, New Zealand (close to the site of the first stranding in 1933). The specimen was removed for autopsy by the Department of Conservation.

Behaviour

No information is available about group sizes, diving pattern or migatory patterns. The paucity of information may be due to the species having a very shy manner, or its rarity, or both.

Conservation

There are no reports of this species being hunted or killed accidentally by humans.

References

  1. ^ 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). Tasmacetus shepherdi. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 24 March 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of data deficient.

Sources

  1. Shepherd's Beaked Whale in the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals Thomas A. Jefferson, 1998. ISBN 0-12-551340-2
  2. National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World Reeves et al., 2002. ISBN 0-375-41141-0.
  3. Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises Carwardine, 1995. ISBN 0-7513-2781-6
  4. News report on 28th recording stranding
  5. Laughlin, C. 1996. Probable Sighting of Tasmacetus Shepherdi in the South Atlantic. Marine Mammal Science, 12(3): 496-497.
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