Northern bottlenose whale

  • Scientific name: Hyperoodon ampullatus
  • Length: Up to 9.8m
  • Marine mammal type: cetacean
  • Family: Ziphiidae
  • IUCN Conservation status: Data deficient
  • Protected by: CITES


A pelagic species measuring up to 9.8 metres in length, black dorsally, paler ventrally, with a short ‘beak’ and bulbous head. The small dorsal fin is located two thirds of the way back along its body, and they lack the median notch between the left and right tail flukes. They capture their prey by suction feeding, using the throat grooves to quickly expand the oral cavity to suck prey into their mouths.

Northern bottlenose whales have a gestation period of approximately 12 months. Calves are born between April and June, measuring 3.5 metres, and are dependent for over 12 months.

In its natural habitat, the species is found in groups of 3 to 10 and feeds primarily on squid, but will also take other invertebrates, herring and deep sea fish.

N.B. Beaked Whales
All beaked whales lack the median notch between the left and right tail fluke. They capture their prey by ‘suction feeding’ using the throat grooves to quickly expand the oral cavity to suck prey into their mouths.

Where to see them

This species is found in the north Atlantic in offshore waters, particularly near the continental shelf edge and beyond where it has been known to dive to over 2000m on a single breath in search of its favoured prey, squid.

It is rarely seen in British and Irish waters, but when it is seen it is usually by boats in offshore areas along the Atlantic seaboard and there is an apparent increase in sightings during the summer months. It would be very unusual to see this species from land.


Live strandings of this species are rare, and animals found alive on the shore are almost certainly going to be in a poor state of health and not suitable to be refloated, especially those that have entered the North Sea that will be a very long way from their normal habitat and unlikely to find their way back.

The most famous incident in BDMLR’s history (and in fact for any cetacean rescue organisation in the world at the time) took place in central London in January 2006, when an individual of the species swam up the River Thames past the Houses of Parliament in Westminster and grabbed global media and public attention. It stranded alive the next day and a huge multi-organisational response was launched, led by BDMLR and the Port of London Authority with assistance from other emergency services including the RNLI, Fire and Rescue Service and the Marine Police Unit. The incident was broadcast live across the world continuously throughout the day to over 500 million viewers. The animal was lifted on to a barge and transported towards the river mouth while one of BDMLR’s consultant veterinarians assessed its health. Unfortunately it was deemed to be in poor health and the decision was made to put it to sleep, however it died of its own accord minutes later.

What to do if you find a stranded animal?

A whale, dolphin or porpoise stranded on the beach is obviously not a usual phenomenon. These animals do not beach themselves under normal circumstances, and they will require assistance. Please DO NOT return them to the sea as they may need treatment and or a period of recovery before they are fit enough to swim strongly.

01825 765546 (24hr)
RSPCA hotline (England & Wales): 0300 1234 999
SSPCA hotline (Scotland): 03000 999 999

You will receive further advice over the phone, but important things you can do to help are:

  • Support the animal in an upright position and dig trenches under the pectoral fins.
  • Cover the animal with wet sheets or towels (even seaweed) and keep it moist by spraying or dousing with water.
  • Do NOT cover, or let any water pass down the blowhole (nostril), sited on top of the animal’s head. This will cause the animal great distress and could even kill it.
  • Every movement around a stranded animal should be quiet, calm and gentle. Excessive noise and disturbance will only stress it further.
  • Estimate the length of the animal and look for any distinguishing features that may give clues as to the species you are dealing with.
  • Look for signs of injury and count the number of breaths (opening of the blowhole) over a minute – this can give important clues as to how stressed the animal is.
  • Take great care when handling a dolphin, porpoise or whale; keep away from the tail, as it can inflict serious injuries – this is particularly the case with whales and it is advisable to leave handling larger whales until experienced help arrives. Avoid the animal’s breath, as it may carry some potentially nasty bacteria.
  • Provide information: Give the hotline an exact location for the animal – this can save valuable and perhaps critical time. If you have a mobile, give the number to the hotline.
  • Give an accurate description of the animal, including its breathing rate, and whether it is in surf, on rocks or sand, in the shade or in the full glare of the sun.
  • Information on weather conditions and sea state are also helpful.
  • The hotline should be informed of any attempts already made to push the animal back into the sea.
  • Maintain control.
  • Keep all contact, noise and disturbance to a minimum.
  • Under no circumstances, release the animal into the sea before the rescue team has arrived. It is fine to support a smaller dolphin or porpoise in the water, as long as the blowhole is kept above the water at all times, and as long as it is carried to the water carefully, e.g. in a tarpaulin (do NOT drag it or lift it by its fins or tail).
  • However, actually releasing the animal before it has received an assessment and first aid from experienced personnel can do more harm than good.

If you find a dead cetacean

The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) collects a wide range of data on each stranding found on UK shores. If you discover a dead animal, please contact the CSIP hotline and give a description of the following where possible:

  • Location and date found
  • Species and sex
  • Overall length
  • Condition of the animal
  • Your contact details should further information be needed

Digital images are extremely helpful to identify to species, as well as ascertaining whether the body may be suitable for post-mortem examination. 

CSIP has produced a useful leaflet that can be downloaded by clicking here.

CSIP hotline: 0800 6520333. Callers are given a number of options to ensure they reach the correct department. You can also use this number to contact BDMLR as there is an option for live animal strandings that transfers directly to us.