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Pygmy Killer Whale

Discovered in 1827

Order: Cetacea

Suborder: Odontoceti

Superfamily: Delphinoidea

Family: Delphinidae

Subfamily: Globicephalinae

Genus & Species: Feresa attenuata


The pygmy killer whale, also known as the slender blackfish or the slender pilot whale, closely resembles both the false killer and the melon-headed whales. The head is rounded and the body is slender and small, with a maximum length of 8.5 ft. The maximum weight is 495 lbs. The flipper tips are rounded and the dorsal fin is large. The jaw is underslung and the beak is indistinguishable from the head. The top jaw contains 8-11 pairs of teeth, and the bottom jaw contains 11-13 pairs of teeth. The backbone contains 68-71 vertebrae, unlike the false killer whale, which has only 50.

The colouring is a dark black, blue-black, or grey-brown. The lips and often the entire lower jaw are white, creating a sort of "goatee." The beak and genital area is also often white. A dark stripe stretching from the top of the head and widening at the dorsal region forms the dorsal cape. A light grey patch extends from the throat to the vent area.

It is believed that pygmy killer whales can extrude their eyes from their sockets so that they can look behind themselves.


Pygmy killer whales can be found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide. They prefer deep waters away from coast lines. They are found in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Southeastern Atlantic Ocean, and near Sri Lanka and Lesser Antilles. They are though to live year-round in at least the Gulf of Mexico.


Pygmy killer whales feed upon cephalopods (squid) and large fish, such as tuna. They are thought to kill and eat other dolphins as well.

Pygmy killer whales deserve the name "killer" much more than their counterpart the killer whale. They are highly aggressive and cannot be handled. One specimen was captured off Hawaii in 1963 and sent to Sea Life Park. The day after its capture it tried to attack a man checking the water input. Ten days later it was placed in the same tank as two pilot whales. The youngest of the two was later found dead. The cause of death: a sharp blow to the cranium by the head of the pygmy killer whale.


Very little is known about their breeding habits. The males and females become sexually mature when they reach the length of 7 ft. The calves are 32 in long at birth.


Pygmy killer whales are sometimes fished by Japanese fishermen. 300-800 are captured each year by Sri Lankans. Many others are killed worldwide by becoming entangled in fishing nets or trapped in purse seines used to trap tuna.


The pygmy killer whale was first made known to science after the discovery of two skulls of a previously unknown species. John Gray of the British Museum examined them from 1827-1875 and named them Feresa attenuata. It wasn't until after 1950, however, that actual specimens were found. Today they are rarely seen in the wild, and are mostly known by strandings and net entanglements. They have been seen in pods ranging in size from 25-50. They are rather acrobatic and will bow-ride with rough-toothed dolphins.


The pygmy killer whale is a species of dolphin and is in the same subfamily as the melon-headed whale, false killer whale, killer whale, long-finned pilot whale and short-finned pilot whale.


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