Protected Resources

Melon-headed whale

Youngmi Choi ©SPC

Scientific name: Peponocephala electra

Stock Assessment / Estimated Breeding Population

Accurate and detailed information about the population of these whales in the Pacific Islands Region is still largely unknown. Large herds or pods are seen regularly in Hawaiian waters, especially off the Waianae coast of Oahu, the north Kohala coast of Hawaii, and the leeward coast of Lanai.

For a current Stock Assessment Report (SAR) please visit:

NOAA Fisheries - Office of Protected Resources - Melon-Headed Whale SAR, Small Cetaceans

Legal Protection

Melon-headed whales are not listed as "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and although they are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), these whales are not considered depleted in Hawaiian waters.

Natural History

Photo: Mass stranding of melon-headed whales in Hanalei bay

Melon-headed whales are small odontocetes that live in a wide tropical range between 20° S and 40° N. They are deep divers that feed on mesopelagic squid. Very little is known about this species and most knowledge has come from mass strandings. The most recent mass stranding occured in the morning hours of July 3rd, 2004, when 150-200 melon-headed whales came into the shallow waters of Hanalei bay on the island of Kauai. With the help of the community and various federal and state officials, these whale were hearded back into deeper waters. One calf did not survive.

Physical Description

Photo credit: PIFSC

The body of the melon-headed whale is completely black or dark gray; the face and cape of the animal being the darkest parts. They also have the characteristic features of white ventral marks and pink or white lips.

These whales do not have a rostrum or beak, and have many pairs of small and sharp teeth. For that reason, this animal was once called the "many-toothed blackfish."


Melon-headed whales feed in the deep waters of the open ocean, mostly on fish, squid and crustaceans. Scientists are not certain about the actual depths that they feed, but estimate it to be up to 5,000 ft deep.


Estimated life span of at least 22 years for males and 30 years for females.

Potential Threats

Current Management Issues

Developing strategies to limit and reduce anthropogenic noise.

More Information