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October 2022

Southern Bottlenose whale
Object Number: 2002.5.342
In 2002 the remains of a Southern Bottlenose whale were found in Wirik Bay, a small bay on the south-eastern corner of South Georgia.

The species is found in the deep waters of the Southern Ocean and rarely ventures north. The Southern Bottlenose whale belongs to a group of animals called the beaked whales. Along with sperm whales, dolphins and porpoises, beaked whales form part of the Odontoceti or toothed whales. Toothed whales possess teeth, a single blow hole and a lack of baleen.

The beaked whales are an elusive group. They are deep diving and most sightings are brief and a matter of chance. Most of the scientific knowledge we have of this group are from rare strandings or beach finds such as this skeleton, our object of the month.

The South Georgia Museum specimen includes the skull and upper jaw, 19 (of a total of 46) vertebrae and 2 rib bones. The skeleton suggests the animal was around 7 metres (24 feet) in length. The lower jaw and any signs of teeth are missing.

Vertebrae of the South Georgia Museum southern bottlenose whale


The Southern bottlenose whale, or Hyperoodon planifrons, is rarely seen in South Georgia waters. The species is marked by a pale coloured, bulbous melon on its forehead and a small stubby dolphin-like beak. The name melon is used to describe the pronounced forehead.

The Southern bottlenose whale showing the bulbous melon and scars

The species generally have 2 teeth, which remain beneath the gums in females but erupt in male adults. The teeth are thought to be used as tusk-like weapons and inflict deep scars.

Little is known about the whale species, for example, there is no knowledge of its lifespan. The only indicator of age is the size and heavy scaring that can be seen. It feeds on squid in deep waters but its ecology is limited. When positively identified at sea it is usually in groups of 1 to 3 and on rare occasions up to groups of 10 have been seen in Antarctic waters.


Length: 6-7.5m

Distribution: A wide range around the southern hemisphere, from Antarctica north to about 30°S

Weight: 6-8 tonnes

Identification: Bluish black to yellow colouration, bulbous forehead, fin two-thirds of way down back, robust cylindrical body. Sightings of the whale have shown that the animals often have pale scars

Bushy blow and only surfaces for short periods

Diet: Squid, fish and other invertebrates

Group size: 1-25, but fewer than 10 more common in Antarctic

The Southern Bottlenose whale skeleton on display in the Prince Room in South Georgia