Northern Bottlenose Whale

Northern Bottlenose Whale: Hyperoodon ampullatus

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Status and distribution summary:

World population estimated to be c40,000, which is restricted to the northern Atlantic Ocean from the Azores north to the Arctic Circle. Large numbers are known from the canyons off the Nova Scotia coast (at the south of the main range) and north of Iceland.


Heavily hunted in the late 19th and the 20thC. 65,000 were killed. They have been included in the Faroese drive hunts, but rarely in recent years

Other threats:

Known to be vulnerable to intense noise eg military sonar and seismic explorations.

Where it is seen:

Usually over the canyons and deeper waters in Biscay, though occasionally close inshore, including in the Channel, which may be migrants.

Frequency of sightings:

Used to be annual in summer, when it would occur in small pods of 2 - 10 individuals, but less frequently seen in recent years. Infrequent or absent at other times.


Medium-sized (up to 9 metres in length).

In regular surfacing they usually show the following features:

  • Orangey brown or medium grey in colour, many have a pale patch on the forehead (perhaps a feature of older animals).
  • Distinctive bulbous forehead with a protruding beak.
  • Small falcate dorsal fin is set 2/3 towards the tail.
  • Low bushy blow is usually visible.


Frequently occurs in groups, which sometimes surface together

Undertakes long deep dives of between 15 minutes to hours.

At the surface, blows approximately every 30 seconds for 10 minutes before diving, surfacing at an angle which often reveals the bulbous melon (forehead), and at a speed which can cause a 'bow-wave'.

Known to breach, leaving the water completely, and lob tail.

Confusion species:

  • Cuvier's Beaked Whale; similar in colour, including pale patching on the forehead, size and general shape, however any view of the head shape will be diagnostic.
  • Minke Whale; similar in size and fin shape, but is blackish, and lacks a bulbous head.