15 Fascinating Toothed Whales of the Ocean

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 3rd November 2023

toothed whales
Head of a killer whale orca | Grafissimo via Getty Images

Whales or cetaceans are among the most fascinating animals on the planet. 

They are mammals, living like fishes in oceans all over the world. 

The whales demonstrate a wide range of adaptations that make them perfectly suited to the life their ancestors chose 50 million years ago. 

One of the most interesting ways their adaptability is demonstrated is in how they feed. 

Some whales are filter feeders and are collectively referred to as mysticetes or baleen whales. 

toothed whales
Smiling dolphin peeking out of the water | Manuel Cabrera via Getty Images

These whales have giant sieves (baleen), which they use to collect tiny fish and crustaceans from the water as they swim. 

The other family of whales are the toothed whales (Odontoceti). 

Unlike their filter-feeding relatives, toothed whales have teeth in their jaws and are typically efficient hunters. 

This large family of marine mammals includes sperm whales, belugas, narwhals, porpoises, and dolphins. 

In this post, we’ll list 15 toothed whale species and explain some of the most interesting details about them. 

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15. Long-finned Pilot Whale

toothed whales
Long-finned pilot whale | eco2drew via Getty Images
Common nameLong-finned Pilot Whale
Scientific NameGlobicephala melas
Preferred PreySquids
Weight2,500 kilograms (5,500 pounds)
Length6–7.6 meters (20–25 feet)
LocationNorth Atlantic 

The long-finned pilot whale is a large dolphin species in the North Atlantic Ocean and the southern seas. 

It is distinguishable from its close relative (the short-finned pilot whale) by its long pectoral fins. 

This large cetacean is the second-largest dolphin species after the killer whale (orca). 

The pilot whale has a mix of black and dark gray coloration, with white markings on its belly region similar to that of orcas. 

They’re quite social and have been observed interacting with other whale species. 

Pilot whales are apex predators in their ecosystem. Typical prey include squid, octopus, and different species of fish.

14. Pygmy Sperm Whale

toothed whales
Kogia breviceps | Photo via “The Fisheries and Fisheries Industries of the United States“, by George Brown Goode (1887)
NamePygmy sperm whale Weight400 kilograms (880 pounds)
Scientific nameKogia brevicepsLength3.5 meters (11 feet)
Preferred PreyGlass squidLocationAtlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans
Common nameLong-finned Pilot Whale
Scientific NameGlobicephala melas
Preferred PreySquids
Weight2,500 kilograms (5,500 pounds)
Length6–7.6 meters (20–25 feet)
LocationNorth Atlantic 

The pygmy sperm whale is a little-known toothed whale species that lives in the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. 

With a maximum length of about 3.5 meters (11 feet), the pygmy sperm whale is roughly the same size as a dolphin. 

Although significantly smaller, the pygmy sperm whale looks quite similar to the giant sperm whale. 

It also has a spermaceti organ but has never been hunted on a large scale for sperm oil like the sperm whale. 

The pygmy sperm whale is elusive. 

It has never been observed in the open sea, so much of what we know about them is from beached individuals. 

13. Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin

toothed whales
Side view of an Atlantic white-sided dolphin | JZHunt via Getty Images
Common nameAtlantic white-sided dolphin
Scientific NameLagenorhynchus acutus
Preferred PreyHerring, mackerel, and squid 
Weight180–230 kilograms (400–510 pounds)
Length2.8 meters (9.2 feet)
LocationNorth Atlantic Ocean 

As the name suggests, the Atlantic white-sided dolphin has a unique coloration characterized by a prominent white patch on both sides of its body (just behind the dorsal fin). 

The patch may also be pale yellow in some individuals. 

This large dolphin lives in the cool and temperate waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.

It is one of the largest dolphin species, with an average weight of about 2.8 meters (9.2 feet). 

The Atlantic white-sided dolphin is one of the most commonly spotted dolphin species due to its tendency to display acrobatic moves as it interacts with boats. 

12. White-Beaked Dolphin

toothed whales
Porpoising White-beaked Dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) in the ocean. | AGAMI stock via Getty Images
Common nameWhite-beaked dolphin 
Scientific NameLagenorhynchus albirostris
Preferred PreyGadoid fishes (cod and haddocks) 
Weight180–354 kilograms (397–780 pounds)
Length2.3–3.1 meters (7.7–10.2 feet) 
LocationNorth Atlantic Ocean

The white-beaked dolphin is a medium to large-sized dolphin species that lives in the cold subarctic waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. 

It has a short beak, which is usually a white color in most individuals but maybe a dark or ashy gray color in some. 

The common name of this dolphin refers to this white beak. 

The rest of this toothed whale’s body is a mix of dark and light gray patches.

Another distinct feature of this cetacean is the prominent saddle just behind its dorsal fin, which is sometimes visible when the fish is close to the water surface. 

The white-beaked dolphin is a social animal commonly found in groups of about ten individuals, but they may even form larger groups occasionally with hundreds of other white-beaked dolphins. 

These playful dolphins are fond of swimming alongside ships and boats, and they interact well with other whale species, too. 

11. Harbor Porpoise

toothed whales
Harbor porpoise | Photo via Ecomare (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Common nameHarbor porpoise
Scientific NamePhocoena phocoena
Preferred PreySchooling fish species (herring, cod, sardines, and so on)
Weight61–76 kilograms (134–168 pounds) 
Length1.4–1.9 meters (4.7–6.3 feet)
LocationNorth Atlantic, North Pacific and the Black Sea

The harbor porpoise is one of the smallest-toothed whale species. 

With an average length of about 1.4 to 1.9 meters (4.7 to 6.3 feet), this cetacean is also the smallest porpoise species. 

As the name implies, the harbor porpoise is commonly found around harbors. 

This makes it one of the most recognizable and commonly spotted cetacean species. 

Harbor porpoises are mainly found in the waters of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Ocean. 

However, individuals have been observed in rivers and freshwater bodies several kilometers away from the sea. 

Harbor porpoises are bottom foragers but will hunt prey close to the water surface occasionally. 

10. Baird’s Beaked Whale

toothed whales
Berardius bairdii | Photo via Cetaceans of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
Common nameBaird’s beaked whale 
Scientific NameBerardius bairdii
Preferred PreyMackerel, sardines, and saury
Weight13.2 tons (26,455 pounds) 
Length11.9–12.8 meters (39–42 feet)
LocationNorth Pacific Ocean 

Also known as the northern giant bottlenose, Baird’s beaked whale is the largest member of the Ziphiidae family of whales collectively known as the beaked whales. 

It is mainly found in the waters of the North Pacific Ocean. 

The northern giant bottlenose is a deepwater whale species known to dive to depths of about 1,000 to 3,000 meters.

Although it is classified as a toothed whale, this giant whale only has a few teeth in its mouth. 

The elongated snout, which is referred to as the beak, is mainly toothless, but there are one or two sets of teeth in the whale’s lower mandible. 

These are called “battle teeth” and are mainly used for intra-species conflict. 

This whale species can grow to lengths of over 12 meters, making it the second-largest whale species after the sperm whale. 

9. Arnoux’s Beaked Whale

toothed whales
Baird’s beaked whale in Antarctica | Ted Cheeseman via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Common nameArnoux’s beaked whale
Scientific NameBerardius arnuxii
Preferred PreyDeepwater squid 
Weight9 tons (8,200 kilograms)
Length9.75 meters (31 feet) 
LocationAntarctica 

The Arnoux’s beaked whale is a close relative of the Baird’s beaked whale. 

In fact, both species look so similar experts initially thought they were separate populations of the same species. 

It is sometimes called the southern beaked whale because it is mainly found in the Southern Ocean (Antarctic). 

This whale’s appearance is characterized by a large bulbous melon and a long snout similar to that of its Northern relative. 

It also has a few teeth at the back of its beak, used for intraspecific competition. 

Little is known about the behavior of this whale species because they’re elusive and have never been observed alive. 

8. Common Bottlenose Dolphin

toothed whales
A mother Bottlenose Dolphin swims with her calf close by. | NaluPhoto via Getty Images
Common nameCommon bottlenose dolphin 
Scientific NameTursiops truncatus 
Preferred PreyEels and squids 
Weight150–650 kilograms (330–1,430 pounds)
Length2–4 meters (6.6–13.1 feet) 
LocationWorldwide 

The common bottlenose dolphins live in temperate and tropical oceans worldwide but are absent in polar waters. 

It is the most well-known dolphin species and the largest member of the beaked dolphin family. 

The common name “bottlenose dolphin” is a reference to the dolphin’s long snout, which is one of its most recognizable features. 

With brains larger than humans, the common bottlenose dolphin is considered one of the most intelligent marine creatures. 

Bottlenose dolphins exhibit a wide range of advanced behaviors, including mimicry, self-recognition, and language. 

Although this whale’s snout is lined with teeth, the bottlenose dolphin swallows its prey whole instead of chewing them. 

7. Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

toothed whales
A rarely-seen Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris) breaking surface of the Bay of Biscay | Dr John A Horsfall via Getty Images
Common nameCuvier’s beaked whale
Scientific NameZiphius cavirostris
Preferred PreySquids
Weight2–3.5 tons (4,000–7,000 pounds)
Length5.8–6.9 meters (19–22.5 feet)
LocationWorldwide

The Cuvier’s beaked whale is found in oceans worldwide and is considered one of the most widely distributed beaked whale species. 

The wide distribution of this whale makes it one of the most commonly spotted whale species in the world. 

The Cuvier’s beaked whale lives in the open seas and has been known to dive to depths of up to 300 meters (1,000 ft). 

In fact, the longest dive by a whale, which lasted about 222 minutes, has been attributed to this whale. 

The Cuvier’s beaked whale is also commonly referred to as the goose-beaked whale due to its short beak, which resembles that of a goose. 

Although they’re generally classified as toothed whales, only mature male individuals in this species have teeth. 

Their dentition consists of two tusks that grow out of the right and left corners of their lower jaw. 

6. Dwarf Sperm Whale

toothed whales
Museum model of a Dwarf sperm whale | Citron via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Common nameDwarf Sperm Whale
Scientific NameKogia sima
Preferred PreyCock-eyed squid and glass squid
Weight136 to 272 kilograms (300 to 600 pounds)
Length2–2.7 meters (6.6–8.9 feet)  
LocationWorldwide

The dwarf sperm whale is a close relative of the pygmy sperm whale, with both being species in the Kogia genus. 

The dwarf sperm whale lives in temperate and tropical waters worldwide. 

As the name suggests, the dwarf sperm whale is relatively small compared to the other sperm whale species. 

It’s only about 2 to 2.7 meters long on average. 

Given its size, the dwarf sperm whale is often attacked by large marine predators like sharks and orcas

To escape, it releases a cloudy reddish-brown fluid into the water to distract potential predators. 

The dwarf sperm whale preys on squids, octopuses, and fish, which it hunts through suction-feeding. 

5. Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale Armada | eco2drew via Getty Images
Common nameSperm whale 
Scientific NamePhyseter macrocephalus
Preferred PreySquids
Weight45 tonnes
Length16 meters (52 feet) 
LocationWorldwide 

Also known as the cachalot, the sperm whale is the largest toothed whale species. 

This also makes it the largest-toothed predator on Earth. 

Sperm whales prey on fish, octopuses, and sharks, but squids form the bulk of their diet. 

This massive whale has an average length of about 52 feet (16 meters), and its head takes up about one-third of this length. 

The common name is a reference to spermaceti (sperm oil), the white waxy oil that is produced by the whale, which was erroneously assumed to be its sperm. 

Sperm whales are found in oceans all over the world. 

It is a pelagic whale species, which means it lives in the open ocean. 

This whale is renowned for its impressive diving abilities. 

The sperm whale can swim to depths of up to 2,250 meters (7,382 feet), making it the third-deepest diving mammal. 

4. Beluga Whale 

Group of happy beluga whales | bbevren via Getty Images
Common nameBeluga whale 
Scientific NameDelphinapterus leucas
Preferred PreyArctic cod 
Weight1,100–1,600 kilograms (2,430–3,530 pounds)
Length3.5–5.5 meters (11–18 feet)
LocationArctic Ocean 

The beluga whale is a toothed whale species that lives in the waters of the Arctic Ocean. 

It is one of the most recognizable whale species thanks to its unique coloration. 

The beluga whale is commonly called the white whale and is the only cetacean known to exhibit this type of coloration. 

Like other whales, the beluga whale has an organ known as the melon at the front of its head. 

Whales use this organ for echolocation, but for the beluga, the melon is more prominent and squishy. 

The diet of beluga whales mainly consists of fish like the arctic cod, but they also prey on invertebrates like shrimp, squid, clams, and crabs. 

3. Narwhal 

Narwhal in the deep | dottedhippo via Getty Images
Common nameNarwhal
Scientific NameMonodon monoceros
Preferred PreyGreenland halibut, cod and cuttlefish
Weight800–1,600 kilograms (1,800–3,500 pounds)
Length3.95–5.5 meters (13–18 feet)
LocationAtlantic and Arctic Oceans 

The narwhal is often described as the unicorn of the sea due to the long forward-pointing tusk growing out of its jaws. 

The narwhal’s long tusk is actually a protrusion of its canine tooth and can grow to lengths of about 1.5 to 3.1 meters (4.9 to 10.2 feet) in some individuals. 

Both male and female narwhals can develop tusks, although it is more common in males than females. 

Some males may also have two tusks instead of one. 

Narwhals are medium-sized whales with an average body length of about 3.95 to 5.5 meters (13 to 18 feet) (excluding the tusk. 

The narwhal’s diet mainly consists of fish such as the Greenland halibut, cod, & cuttlefish. 

2. Orca (Killer Whale) 

Orcas feeding on herrings | Rasmus-Raahauge via Getty Images
Common nameKiller whale 
Scientific NameOrcinus orca 
Preferred PreyFish 
WeightOver 6 tons (13,000 pounds) 
Length6–8 meters (20–26 ft) 
LocationWorldwide  

Although commonly referred to as the killer whale, the orca is actually a type of dolphin. 

It is the largest dolphin species and one of the most ferocious aquatic predators.

Orcas are known for their distinct black-and-white patterned coloration. 

The killer whale is an apex predator found in all oceans worldwide. 

This toothed whale prey on fish, rays, sharks, and even other marine mammals such as seals and whales. 

Orcas are intelligent whales and have been known to exhibit several complex hunting behaviors. 

Orcas have been observed grabbing seals off ice sheets or intentionally beaching themselves to catch prey and wiggling back into the sea on their own. 

They may also hunt cooperatively to kill larger prey, including blue whales

1. Vaquita 

This is an artistic depiction of the most critically endangered animal on the planet (Vaquita) and it’s overall type and build. | 좀비 브렌다 via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Common nameVaquita
Scientific NamePhocoena sinus
Preferred PreyGrunts and croakers
Weight19–150 grams (0.6–5.2 ounces)
Length150 centimeters (4.9 feet)
LocationSea of Cortez (upper Gulf of California) 

The vaquita is a toothed whale species on the brink of extinction. 

It is considered the rarest marine mammal, with a small population limited to the upper Gulf of California.

The vaquita is the smallest cetacean species, with an average length of about 150 centimeters (4.9 feet). 

It is a generalist predator that feeds on different kinds of fish, crustaceans, and squids. 

The vaquita is commonly caught as bycatch in gillnets, the major threat to their population. 

This whale also lives in shallow marine environments and is commonly affected by pollution, coastal development, and other human activities. 

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