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Species Description

Short-finned Pilot Whale

Globicephala macrorhynchus

Species Image


Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae


Frequently a patch of gray on chin and belly. Also called the Blackfish because the flesh of this whale is entirely black. A medium sized, toothed whale ranging from 4 - 7 m (13 - 23 ft) in length. The calf is 2.4 - 2.7 m (8 - 9 ft) in length at birth. The head is bulbous and globe-like in shape. The pectoral fins are rather short, and the dorsal fin is large.

Life Cycle

The Short-finned Pilot Whale breeds in tropical waters in the winter months. After a gestation period of 12 months, a single calf is born. A female produces young about every third year. The young may nurse for over a year. Females take about 6 to 7 years to reach sexual maturity, and males from 12 to 13 years. This species is polygamous (having many mates), with only a few of the oldest and largest males breeding most of the females. Females stop bearing young at 38 - 40 years of age. This species has a maximum life span of 50 years.

Natural History

The Short-finned Pilot Whale is a very social animal and is usually seen in a group called a pod. Pods range in size from 10 - 60 individuals, but schools of several hundred individuals have been recorded. A pod of whales always follows a single leader and this may be the reason why large numbers of these whales are stranded in a single occurrence. This species is the most frequently stranded species in the world. Pilot whales are seasonally migratory, moving north for the warm months and then south for the winter. The diet consists of squid, cuttlefish, and fish. Pilot whales communicate by making a variety of sounds, which have been variously described as squealing, whistling, whining, and snoring. To find food in the deep, dark open ocean, they probably use echolocation (a means of locating objects by bouncing supersonic vocalizations off them which are then picked up by the ear). When moving through open water, members of a pod will often line up side-by-side and advance as a front. This behavior has been suggested to be a means of stalking prey or part of their social behavior. Pilot whales hang vertically in the water when at rest. They seldom breach (jump completely out of the water).


The Short-finned Pilot Whale inhabits offshore warm temperate, subtropical to tropical waters of the world. This species has been recorded as far north as Virginia along the U.S. Atlantic coast.

Conservation Status

At one time hunted for whale oil, this whale along with all other marine mammals is now protected from hunting by an international agreement.

Similar Species

The Long-finned Pilot Whale is a bit smaller in total length, has a longer pectoral fin, and generally occurs further north.