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Melon-Headed Whale

Will attack other dolphins

Order: Cetacea

Suborder: Odontoceti

Superfamily: Delphinoidea

Family: Delphinidae

Subfamily: Globicephalinae

Genus & Species: Peponocephala electra


The melon-headed whale, also known as the electra dolphin, little killer whale, melonhead whale and many-toothed blackfish, is a large dolphin with an elongated body. The head is rounded, with a slight beak detectable in the smaller specimens. The mouth angles upward towards the eyes and the sides of the face are pressed in, giving it a triangular look when seen from the top. They look much like pygmy killer whales, but are distinguished by them from the shape of the head and the longer, pointed flippers. They have many teeth, 20-26 pairs per jaw, unlike other dolphins, which have fewer than 15 pairs per jaw. The dorsal fin is tall (12in , 30 cm) and is pointed at the tip. It is located at the center of the back. The tail flukes are broad.

Melon-headed whales are black or dark grey in colour. A dark dorsal cap extends from the head and widens below the dorsal fin, narrowing again at the flanks. The lips lack pigment and appear to be white, pink or grey. A dark grey anchor shape is located on the underside and extends from the flippers towards the throat. There is a light stripe that extends from the blowhole to the snout tip and a white urogenital patch on the underside. The head has a dark patch shaped almost like a mask that extends from an eye spot to cover most of the head.

Melon-headed whales reach a maximum length of 9 ft and a maximum weight of 595 lbs. The males have slightly longer flippers and dorsal fins, and broader tail flukes, than females. They communicate with clicks and whistles.


Melon-headed whales are found in tropical and subtropical waters that are deep and in the open ocean. They are seen along most of Africa but do not travel farther north than Morocco. There are no reports of any in the Red or Mediterranean Seas. They are found in the eastern Atlantic, Caribbean, central Pacific and Indian Oceans. They have stranded on Australia, Vanuata, Seychelles, Japan, Brazil, and Costa Rica. One specimen has been stranded in Texas. They are common in the Gulf of Mexico but were not known to live there until 1990. They are not thought to migrate.


Melon-headed whales feed on small fish, large squid, and shrimp. They are very aggressive and have been known to attack small dolphins escaping from purse seines.


Little is known about the breeding habits of the melon-headed whale. The males reach sexual maturity at lengths of 99.2 inches and females at 92 inches. The gestation period is thought to be 12 months. One calf is born from August to December in the Southern Hemisphere and April to June around the Phillippines. Calves are 3 ft long at birth.


Melon-headed whales have no problem with over-collection for amusement parks as they are too aggressive to be handled. However, many are killed in purse seines and drift nets each year. They are hunted off the island of St. Vincent and are harpooned off Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the Phillippines.


Melon-headed whales are found in pods ranging from 100-2000 individuals. They are found in association with Fraser's dolphins and are thought to be the more dominant of the two. They are also seen with spinner and spotted dolphins. They can swim at high speeds and will often bow- ride ships.


The melon-headed whale is in a genus by itself, although prior to 1960 it was in the Lagenorhynchus genus with the dusky dolphin and the Atlantic white-sided dolphin. It is considered to be an "outcast" member of the blackfish group, a term used to describe other members of the subfamily Globicephalinae. These include the killer, pygmy killer, false killer, short-finned pilot and long-finned pilot whales.


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