Pilot whale fact sheet

pilot whales fact sheet

Pilot whales are divided into two different species: short-finned (G. macrorhynchus) and long-finned (G. melas). Short-finned pilot whales are found in warmer temperate to tropical waters and it is this species that is most frequently sighted in the Azores.

However, long-finned pilot whales that prefer cooler waters have also been sighted here, but it is almost impossible to distinguish between the two at sea. Pilot whales are very social animals that are often seen in groups of 15 – 50 or even hundreds of individuals. They form strong permanent bonds and which may be why they often strand in large numbers.

In the Azores pilot whales are frequently sighted from April to October. They are usually seen in deeper water where they can dive over 500 m deep for cephalopods (squid and octopus). They are frequently seen near sperm whales and Risso’s dolphins.     

Short-finned pilot whale facts: (Globicephala macrorhynchus)

(Carwardine, 2019; Minton et al., 2018; Hernández-García & Martín, 1994):

  • Length: 
    Male: 7.2 m
    Female: 5.5 m;
    Calf: 1.4 – 1.9 m;
  • Weight: 
    Male: 3,600 kg
    Calf: 100 kg
  • Global population: 
    c.650,000 (population trend unknown)
  • Conservation Status:
    (IUCN, 2018)Data Deficient
  • Diet:
    Mainly cephalopods (squid and octopus), fish;
  • Teeth:
    30 – 40
  • Longevity: 
    Male: 45 years;
    Female: 60 years;
  • Breeding age: 
    Male: 12 year;
    Female: 6 – 7 years;
  • Gestation:
    12-15 months;
  • Nursing:
    22 months;

In other languages

Portuguese: Baleia-piloto-tropical/Baleia-piloto
Spanish: Calderón tropical, ballena piloto de aleta corta/Calderón común, ballena piloto de aleta larga
French: Baleine pilote, globicéphale tropical/globicéphale commun, globicéphale noir
Italian: Globicefalo di Gray/Globicefalo 
German: Kurzflossen Pilotwal, Grindwal/Gewöhnlicher Grindwal, Langflossen-Grindwal
Dutch: Indische griend/gewone griend, zwarte griend
Swedish: Kortfenad grindval/Långfenad grindval
Norwegian: Kortfinnegrindhval/Langfinnegrindhval, svinehval
Danish: Grindehval/Langfinnede Grindehval
Finnish: Grindvalaat, Pitkäeväpallopää/Eväpallopää
Polish: Albrzymi delfin, grindwal
Russian: Grindy


Aguilar Soto, N., Johnson, M. P., Madsen, P. T., Díaz, F., Domínguez, I., Brito, A., & Tyack, P. (2008). Cheetahs of the deep sea: deep foraging sprints in short-finned pilot whales off Tenerife (Canary Islands). The Journal of Animal Ecology, 77(5), 936–947.
Alves, F. 2014. Population structure, habitat use and conservation of short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) in the archipelago of Madeira. Ph.D. thesis, University of Madeira, Funchal, Portugal.
Carwardine, Mark. (2019). Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Hernández-García V, Martín V (1994). Stomach contents of two short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus, Gray, 1846) (Cetacea: Delphinidae) off the Canary Islands: a preliminary note. International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (CM papers and reports) 16: 1-9.
Minton, G., Braulik, G. & Reeves, R. (2018). Globicephala macrorhynchus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T9249A50355227
Prieto, R. (2007). Revision of the occurrence of the long‐finned pilot whale Globicephala melas (Traill, 1809), in the Azores. Arquipelago: Boletim Da Universidade Dos Acores. Ciencias Biologicas E Marinhas = Bulletin of the University of the Azores. Life and Marine Sciences, 24, 65–69.

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