Pygmy Killer Whale (Feresa attenuata)


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Pygmy killer whales are small members of the dolphin group. They can reach a length of 8.5 feet (2.6 m) and weight of 380 pounds (170 kg).

They have a small head with a rounded melon that extends in front of the mouth and there is no discernable beak. Their dorsal fin is relatively large and tall and is located behind the mid-back. They have relatively long pointed, tapering flippers (pectoral fins). Body color is dark with some small white areas on the lips and belly.

Reproductive biology is poorly known in this species.

Pygmy killer whales usually occur in groups of 50 or less. Both sexes may remain in their birth groups. They are generally less active than other oceanic dolphins; frequently they are seen “logging”–resting in groups at the surface with all animals oriented the same way.

They apparently feed primarily on squids and fishes.

This species is classified as DATE INCOMPLETE according to the IUCN's Red List.
This species is classified as DATE INCOMPLETE according to the IUCN’s Red List.


MMPA – Pygmy killer whales, like all marine mammals, are protected under the MMPA.
CITES Appendix II – throughout its range

Species Description

up to 380 pounds (170 kg)
up to 8.5 feet (2.6 m)
gray with small head and a rounded melon/forehead, relatively large dorsal and pectoral fins
squids and fishes
usually occur in groups of 50 or less, they remain in their birth groups;
generally less active than other oceanic dolphins, they are seen “logging”–resting in groups at the surface

RELATIVE SPECIES: Melon-headed whale, False Killer Whale

OTHER NAMES: Lesser Killer Whale

NEIGHBORING SPECIES: Killer whale, False Killer Whale, Short-finned pilot whale.


THREATS: Rarely taken by fishermen or caught in nets.

DIET: Squid and fish


BEHAVIOR: Travel in pods of 50 or less. Occasionally bow ride with other species of dolphin. Rarely jump out of the water. Slower and calmer than other dolphin species. In captivity, they are known to attack and kill their tank mates.

REPRODUCTION: Calves are born in the summer.

LIFE SPAN: Unknown


They prefer deeper areas of warmer tropical and subtropical waters where their prey are concentrated.


Pygmy killer whales are found primarily in deep waters throughout tropical and subtropical areas of the world. There are three recognized stocks in the U.S.: Hawaii, Northern Gulf of Mexico, and Western North Atlantic.

Population Trends

The most recent stock assessment reports with population estimates are available on our website.


  • drive fisheries, though few
  • bycatch in gillnet fisheries, though there is no reported bycatch from U.S. fisheries

Conservation Efforts

There are no known conservation efforts directed specifically at this species as they are poorly known and have few fishery interactions or other known threats.

Regulatory Overview

This species is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 as amended.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Genus: Feresa
Species: attenuata



  • Pygmy killer whales were known from two fossil skulls for over 100 years until discovery of live animals in 1954.
  • Pygmy killer whales are very aggressive when kept in captivity.
  • Very rare. Looks like a small killer whale without the white markings.