Beaked whales (Ziphiidae) comprise nearly 25% of all cetacean species, yet these whales are one of the least understood families of cetaceans. Species identifications are difficult due to the intraspecific morphological variations (ontogenetic and sexually dimorphic) and interspecific similarities in diagnostic characters. Contributing to this problem is the lack of reference material and unavailability of a comprehensive specimen collection in most museum research collections. Most diagnostic characters of beaked whales are found in the skull, mandibles, and teeth. Such characters are often ontogenetic and sexually dimorphic, with adult males being the easiest to identify. Accurate species identifications are critical for developing conservation strategies and management of stocks, and serve as a fundamental step in initiating biological investigations.
The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History houses the world's most comprehensive beaked whale reference collection, consisting of nearly 300 ziphiid anatomical specimens, representing 16 of the 21 species of beaked whales, as well as specimen data archives, photo files, and over 1400 bibliographic references on ziphiids. We have pooled these resources into a central reference website for beaked whale morphological data, photographs, anatomy, and life history. By allowing more individuals to become familiar with diagnostic characters of ziphiids, we hope to increase the potential for more accurate identifications of species, function as a information resource for colleagues conducting collaborative studies, and help to initiate cooperation between researchers and agencies interested in ziphiid biology.