Species Profile

Sowerby's Beaked Whale

Scientific Name: Mesoplodon bidens
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Atlantic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2006
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern

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Image of Sowerby's Beaked Whale

Information about this species

Description The Sowerby’s beaked whale is a small- to medium-sized toothed whale of the family Ziphiidae. Little is known about its specific biology, distribution, and abundance. An adult Sowerby’s beaked whale is typically 4.5-5.5 m long and dark grey in colour. They have a small head with a long, narrow beak and a small triangular dorsal fin approximately 2/3’s of the way back from the beak to flukes. Their tail flukes generally have no center notch, and they have relatively long pectoral fins. Distribution & PopulationSowerby’s beaked whales are found only in the North Atlantic. Their distribution is poorly known, as few at-sea sightings have been confirmed. From these limited data and shore stranding locations, they are considered to be the most northern North Atlantic species of the genus Mesoplodon (beaked whales), and range offshore from Cape Cod to Davis Strait in the western Atlantic, and from Norway to Spain in the eastern Atlantic. In the mid-Atlantic the species ranges from Iceland to the Azores and Madeira. There are no estimates of population size. The rarity of sightings may indicate that the species is uncommon. Alternatively, it may simply reflect the fact that there has been little search effort in the appropriate areas and that sighting and identifying these whales is exceptionally difficult.HabitatThis species is most often sighted in deep water, along the continental shelf edge and slope. Sowerby’s beaked whales are only rarely seen in coastal waters. BiologyLittle is known about the biology of Sowerby’s beaked whales. They are considered deep divers and their diet appears to be composed mainly of deep-water fish and squid. Killer whales and large sharks are their only probable predators. Although the data are inconclusive, length at sexual maturity for both sexes is approximately 4.7m. They appear to be social, generally sighted in groups of 2-10 animals, and mass shore strandings have occurred.Threats There is evidence that beaked whales are vulnerable to human-created, under-water ‘noise pollution’, such as ship propellers, drilling, and explosions. Some mass strandings of beaked whales have been associated with high energy, mid-frequency military sonar while behavioural and distribution changes have been observed in some whale species after seismic surveys (the use of compressed air guns to map the ocean floor). Seismic activities associated with oil and gas exploration off the coast of Atlantic Canada may therefore have an adverse effect on Sowerby’s beaked whale, although the likelihood, nature and severity of such an effect is poorly understood. Sowerby’s beaked whales are also vulnerable to ship strikes, fishing gear entanglement, and toxins in the water. Existing Protection and Other Status Designations The Marine Mammal Regulations of the Fisheries Act prohibits the killing or disturbance of marine mammals, except where a licence has been issued to fish for a particular species. Currently there are no licences issued to fish for Sowerby’s beaked whales in Canadian waters. The Fisheries Act prohibits the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, including marine mammal habitat, except where authorized by the minister. In addition, the Government of Canada has designated the Gully (a large deep water canyon off the coast of Nova Scotia where Sowerby’s beaked whales have been sighted) as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) under the Oceans Act. Regulations for this MPA “prohibit the disturbance, damage, destruction or removal of any living marine organism or any part of its habitat within the MPA”. Some oil and gas operators have also instituted their own “Codes of Practice” for the Gully in order to minimize operational impacts on whales.Sowerby’s beaked whale is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as ‘Data Deficient’ (IUCN 2004), and is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES 2004).



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

9 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Sowerby's Beaked Whale (2007)

    This small beaked whale is endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean where it is found mainly in deep, offshore temperate to subarctic waters. Little is known about its biology, fine-scaled distribution, and abundance. It belongs to a family of whales (Ziphiidae) in which acute exposure to intense sounds (especially from military sonar, but also from seismic operations) has led to serious injury and mortality. Seismic operations are currently widespread and military activities involving the use of mid- and low-frequency sonar likely occur at least occasionally in the habitat of this species off Canada’s East Coast. Although there is no direct evidence that such sound sources have affected this species, there is strong evidence for lethal effects on individuals of related species. Thus there is reasonable cause for concern about the potential effects on individuals of this species. The potential population-level impacts of this type of mortality are unknown. 

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Sowerby's Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens) in Canada (2017)

    The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens) as Special Concern in 2006. In 2011, the Sowerby’s Beaked Whale was listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). The Sowerby’s Beaked Whale is endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean. Its distribution within Canadian waters is thought to include the offshore waters along the continental slope and within submarine canyons off of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. The Sowerby’s Beaked Whale is difficult to observe and identify at sea due to its relatively small size and cryptic surface behaviour. As a result, little is known about specific habitat use, social structure, and population dynamics.


  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2010)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, hereby acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of the assessments conducted under subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2011)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act, hereby makes the annexed Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 (2007)

    2007 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation Workbook on the addition of the Sowerby's Beaked Whale to the SARA List as a species of Special Concern (2007)

    Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the Sowerby's Beaked Whale to Schedule 1 (the List of Wildlife Species at Risk) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) as a species of special concern. Your input on the impacts of adding this species to the List is important. This workbook has been developed to give you an opportunity to provide Fisheries and Oceans Canada with your feedback, advice, and other comments regarding adding this species to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA).

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Recovery Document Posting Plan - Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Fiscal Year 2016-2017 (2016)

    Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the competent Minister(s) must prepare a recovery strategy within one year of listing a species on Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered and within two years of listing a species as extirpated or threatened. A management plan must be prepared within three years for a species listed as special concern. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is accountable for 111 of the 518 species listed under SARA. As of February 2016, proposed recovery strategies, management plans and action plans for 57 of those species have not yet been posted to the Species at Risk Public Registry. An additional 23 aquatic species have proposed management or action plans coming due in the future. The following outlines the Department’s plan for posting proposed documents for 64 species on the Species at Risk Public Registry. The Department has a plan to post recovery strategies for 9 species, management plans for 13 species, and action plans for 42 species over the next year.