This site is indebted to the writings of Lyall Watson (amongst others), for his amazing and well-researched book Whales of the World, illustrated by Tom Ritchie.

STRAPTOOTH BEAKED WHALE Mesoplodon layardii

Description: Medium; length averages 5 m (I (,-17 ft), but some of the larger skulls suggest a possible maximum of around 7 m (23 ft). Weight is estimated at about 1,250 kg
(2,750Ib).

This may be the longest species of beaked whale. Its body is sleek and streamlined, laterally compressed, with a marked keel along the top of the tailstock. The flippers and fin are slightly smaller than those of other southern-hemisphere species. The head is small, the forehead long and gently sloping all the way down to a long, slender beak. These features are characteristic of beaked whales in general and each is familiar from at least one other species, but all take second place to this whale's astonishing teeth.
Male Straptooth Beaked Whales have taken the progressive displacement and growth of the single pair of teeth to absurd limits. In an adult male, such as Layard's first specimen, the tips of the large flat teeth grow upwards and backwards like inverted ribs until they almost meet outside the mouth above the upper jaw. The whale ends up with a strap like a muzzle across its beak which makes it impossible to open the mouth more than a centimetre or two.

The colouring is dark grey with a lighter grey on the under¬side. Some older males have a white blaze on the top of the head. Despite the peculiar, apparently non-functional, development of the teeth, males still seem to manage to leave tooth scars on each other's skin.

Field Identification: Males of this species are easy to identify. The Straptooth breathes like other beaked whales, by breaking the surface first with the beak and the head. If there is an adult male present, and there usually is in small family groups, his broad enamel strap shines out like a plastic marker. There is no mistaking it.
This species in the southern Indian Ocean basks at the surface on calm sunny days. Their usual reaction to an approaching ship is to sink slowly beneath the surface, almost without a ripple, while the vessel is still more than 100 m (330 ft) away. Sometimes however, one of the larger whales will dive with a deliberate lateral roll, bringing one flipper up out of the water as it turns. The tail flukes do not show. Usually the group submerges for 10-15 minutes, surfacing again some 400 m (1,300 ft) further away; but a closer approach in a small boat is possible.

Stranding This species is frequently stranded, particularly in New Zealand. The teeth of males are displaced a full 30 cm (11 inches) from the tip of the jaw. Each is very long, up to 35 cm (14 inches), 4 or 5 cm (2 inches) wide, covered with enamel and tapering exactly like a rib toward the tip. The teeth grow up and out and then tilt backwards at an angle of about 45". On the tip is a small sharp denticle which is often bent at right angles to the rest of the tooth. In young males, growing teeth seem at first to curve outwards away from the beak, like those of the Splay tooth Beaked Whale (M. bowdoini 25), but the jaw in that species is considerably more robust.

Natural History: Straptooth Beaked Whales live almost entirely on squid; although how the large males with their very restricted gape manage to catch or swallow anything remains a mystery. They must function rather like the long pointed attachments that make it possible to get into tight corners with a vacuum cleaner. A female stranded in New Zealand in September had just given birth, showing perhaps that parturition normally takes place in the spring. The calves are about 2.2 m (87 inches) long at birth and are probably suckled for almost a year.

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