Long-Finned Pilot Whale

Long-Finned Pilot Whale

Globicephala melas
Population size
Life Span
46-59 yrs
1.3-2.3 t
5.7-6.7 m

Long-finned pilot whales are large species of oceanic dolphin. They take their name from their unusually long pectoral fins. These whales have a bulbous forehead. They are black or dark grey in colour with light-grey or white markings on the throat and belly regions. The light grey patch found on the throat of pilot whales forms the shape of an anchor. Pilot whales are toothed whales and have a single blowhole. Females in this species are smaller than males.



Long-finned pilot whales are found in the North Atlantic, as well as the Southern Hemisphere. Those in the north are wide-ranging and have been observed off the coast of the eastern U.S. and Canada, across the Atlantic in places such as the Azores and the Faroe Islands, as well as down the western coast of Europe all the way to the Strait of Gibraltar and North Africa. In the southern ocean, Long-finned pilot whales are commonly seen in the Antarctic Convergence Zone and other areas. This species has been also observed near sea ice in the Antarctic. Long-finned pilot whales prefer cooler waters. They occur in pelagic and coastal aquatic biomes.

Long-Finned Pilot Whale habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Long-finned pilot whales are very social in nature. They are usually seen in groups from a couple of individuals to aggregations of over a thousand. However, 20-150 individuals are more commonly observed. These groups are often seen socializing with Common bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and Risso's dolphins. Long-finned pilot whales are often seen lobtailing and spyhopping. They may also breach. Long-finned pilot whales make many different kinds of sounds. In addition to squeaks, whistles, buzzes, and other calls they also produce rapid clicks that function as echolocation. This allows the whales to "see" in the murky, dark environments that they live in by listening to the nature of the echoes that return.


Diet and Nutrition

Pilot whales are carnivorous. They mainly feed on cephalopods and fish. Northwestern Atlantic whales are thought to dine predominately on short-finned squid.

Mating Habits

year-round; peak in late spring-early summer
12-16 months
1 calf

These pilot whales exhibit a polygynous mating system, which means that one male mates with more than one female. Mating occurs between different pods. Males display an aggressive courtship behavior. This includes forcefully colliding melon-to-melon at a high speed. Breeding can take place at anytime during the year, but it peaks in late spring/early summer for both northern and southern hemisphere populations. Gestation lasts for 12-16 months, and females give birth to one calf every 3-6 years. Weaning occurs between 23-27 months of age. Females in this species reach reproductive maturity at about 8 years of age, while males become reproductively mature at around 12 years of age.


Population threats

The biggest threat to Long-finned pilot whales is by-catch. These animals are often incidentally caught in gillnets, long-lines and trawls of fisheries, which endanger lives of many whales. Long-finned pilot whales are likely to suffer from sounds, produced by navy sonar and seismic exploration equipment. Climate change may also affect these pilot whales. It can affect their range and abundance.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the LOng-finned pilot whale is unknown. However, there are estimated populations of the species in the following areas: central and northeastern North Atlantic - 750,000 pilot whales; south of the Antarctic Convergence (Southern Hemisphere) - 200,000 pilot whales; western North Atlantic - 31,000 pilot whales. Currently, this species is classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Long-finned pilot whales have been observed babysitting calves that are not their own. One study showed that many of them are males who are doing the babysitting.
  • Long-finned pilot whales are known for mass strandings. During a specific time of year, from approximately December to March, these whales beach themselves in high numbers along the coast of New Zealand. As pilot whales have strong social bonds it's suggested that when one animal strands, the rest of the group may have the tendency to follow.
  • The diving depths of these pilot whales can vary hugely. It can range from 30 to 1,800 meters!


1. Long-Finned Pilot Whale on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-finned_pilot_whale
2. Long-Finned Pilot Whale on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/9250/12975001

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