Pilot Whale

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There are two species of pilot whales. Short-finned pilot whales inhabit the warmer coastal areas and deeper waters close to continental shelves in the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Long-finned pilot whales live in the cooler waters of the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. Pilot whales feed primarily on squid, fish and mollusks. Females of both species live longer than males. Females live to be between 60 and 63 years old, while males typically live to be around 45 or 46 years old.

Content List

  1. Scientific & Common Names
  2. Characteristics
    1. Breeding
    2. Behavior
  3. History
  4. Present Status
  5. References

Scientific & Common Names

The scientific name of the short-finned pilot whale is Globicephala macrorhynchus. It is also known as the Pacific pilot whale. The scientific name of the long-finned pilot whale is Globicephala melas. This species does not have any other common names. Despite their names, pilot whales are actually dolphins.


Pilot whales are mostly black with a gray, saddle-shaped marking around their dorsal fin and grayish-white anchor-shaped markings on their chest and throat. They have large, melon-shaped heads and very short beaks. Long-finned pilot whales have longer pectoral fins than short-finned pilot whales. Adult long-finned pilot whales measure between 19 and 25 feet and weigh between 2,900 and 5,000 pounds. Adult short-finned pilot whales measure between 12 and 18 feet and weigh between 2,200 and 6,600 pounds.


The peak breeding period for short-finned pilot whales is between July and August. For long-finned pilot whales, the breeding peak is between April and June. Females of both species have a gestation period that lasts for 15 or 16 months, and they both give birth to one calf. Female short-finned pilot whales typically reproduce every 7 years, while female long-finned pilot whales reproduce every 4 years. The mothers care for their young, and other females in their pod help watch them.


Pilot whales live in large groups called pods. They are highly social, and they communicate with other pod members through whistles and clicks as well as tail slapping. While short-finned pilot whales do not travel far from feeding sites unless food disappears, long-finned pilot whales travel great distances.


Short-finned pilot whales were originally identified in 1846, while long-finned pilot whales were first identified in 1809. Their name comes from the belief that a leader piloted each pod.

Present Status

Neither species of pilot whale has an official conservation status due to a lack of data, but scientists believe that their numbers are abundant. The main threats they face include capture by fisheries, incidental capture and sensitivity to navy sonar and other noises. Both species are protected by regulations on wildlife trading.


  1. <a href="http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/pilotwhale_longfinned.htm" target="_blank">http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/pilotwhale_longfinned.htm</a>
  2. <a href="http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/pilotwhale_shortfinned.htm" target="_blank">http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/pilotwhale_shortfinned.htm</a>
  3. <a href="http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Globicephala_melas/" target="_blank">http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Globicephala_melas/</a>
  4. <a href="http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Globicephala_macrorhynchus/" target="_blank">http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Globicephala_macrorhynchus/</a>
  5. <a href="http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/9249/0" target="_blank">http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/9249/0</a>
  6. <a href="http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/9250/0" target="_blank">http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/9250/0</a>