Description & Behavior

Melon-headed whales, Peponocephala electra (Gray, 1846), are close in size to pygmy killer whales and the 2 species bear a strong resemblance from a distance. Adult males reach up to 2.7 m in length, adult females up to 2.6 m in length. Their maximum weight is about 225 kg. The melon-headed whale has a rounded somewhat triangular head when viewed from above or below. When viewed from the side the head appears rounded. Females and juveniles have an indistinct beak. They have a distinct dorsal fin located in the middle of their back. Their flippers are long and pointed at the tips, a characteristic that differs from the more rounded flippers of the pygmy killer whale. Melon-headed whales also have twice as many teeth as the pygmy killer whale; the upper jaws have 20-25 sharp-pointed teeth, and the lower jaws have about 22-24.

They are dark gray to black in color with white to light gray coloring on their ventral (under) side and, like the pygmy killer whale, white lips. The black triangular “mask” on the face distinguishes them from the more uniformly colored pygmy killer whales. Melon-headed whales also have a cape that dips much lower below the dorsal fin than that of pygmy killer whales, although its margin is often faint.

melon-headed whales

vs. pygmy killer whales:
pygmy killer whales

Melon-headed whales are a social species. In the tropical Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, they have been reported traveling with Fraser’s, spinner, and spotted dolphins.

World Range & Habitat


Melon-headed whales, Peponocephala electra, are found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide, most commonly in the Philippine Sea. They favor warm, pelagic waters. Melon-headed whales travel in pods of 100-1,000, although even larger pods have also been reported.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Melon-headed whales, Peponocephala electra, feed primarily on squid and fish.

Life History

The calving season of the melon-headed whale is thought to occur in early spring in the lower latitudes of both hemispheres. Little else is known about the reproductive behavior of this species.

Conservation Status & Comments

No additional data at this time.

References & Further Research

Melon-headed Whale (Peponocephala electra) – The Mammals of Texas
OBIS-SEAMAP – Species Profiles
Peponocephala electra. By Thomas A. Jefferson and Nelio B. Barros, Published 9 May 1997 by the American Society of Mammalogists
Groupe de Recherche sur les Cétacés (GREC)
Jefferson, T.A., S. Leatherwood, and M.A. Webber, FAO species identification guide, Marine mammals of the world, Rome, FAO. 1993. 320 p. 587 figs.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS)

Research Peponocephala electra @
Barcode of Life ~ BioOne ~ Biodiversity Heritage Library ~ CITES ~ Cornell Macaulay Library ~ Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) ~ ESA Online Journals ~ FishBase ~ Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department ~ GBIF ~ Google Scholar ~ ITIS ~ IUCN RedList (Threatened Status) ~ Marine Species Identification Portal ~ NCBI (PubMed, GenBank, etc.) ~ Ocean Biogeographic Information System ~ PLOS ~ SIRIS ~ Tree of Life Web Project ~ UNEP-WCMC Species Database ~ WoRMS

Search for Melon-Headed Whales @
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