Short-finned Pilot Whale

Short-finned Pilot Whale: Globicephala macrorhinchus

IUCN status: Data Deficient   

Status and distribution summary:

Occurs in tropical to warm temperate waters around the globe. In the Atlantic occurs north to Iberia. Overlaps in range with Long-finned Pilot Whales south to the Canary Islands. Mostly found in deep waters   associated with the outer continental shelf slopes and further offshore.

Due to isolation of populations the Atlantic population may be proved to be a separate species from the rest. No good data exists for population abundance in the North Atlantic.


Heavily exploited in drive hunts around Japan. Around 3-400 are killed each year, and despite depletion of the population there the hunt continues. c800 are killed each year in the Phillipines. Small numbers are killed in the Caribbean.

Other threats:

Trapped and drowned in gill net fisheries around the world, particularly the western Pacific. Considered vulnerable to seismic and military sonar noise, which have been implicated in mass strandings.

Where it is seen:

Only recorded in southern Biscay through strandings, but frequency of strandings strongly suggests regular presence there.

Frequency of sightings:

Not positively identified from boats or ships. Several strandings on the north Spanish coast.


Arguably not separable from Long-finned Pilot Whale at sea.

c6 metres long and heavily built

  • Black upper parts, with a grey saddle behind the dorsal fin, though this is not always apparent.
  • Bulbous forehead, without a protruding beak.
  • Dorsal fin is set well forward, about 1/3 distance from beak. Large, broad-based, swept back often with rounded leading edge, falcate and blunt tipped.
  • Male dorsal fin less squashed and irregular than in Long-finned Pilot Whale. Female dorsal fins are more upright and falcate and finely tipped.


Social animal, invariably seen in groups, sometimes of over 100.

Slow leisurely swimming, at the surface, often shows domed forehead when surfacing.

Frequently spy hops. Approaches boats

Confusion species:

  • Long-finned Pilot Whale; indistinguishable with certainty at sea. Longer pectoral fins which may be visible when at play. Usually paler more contrasting saddle behind dorsal fin.
  • False Killer Whale; is similar in size, prominent strongly falcate dorsal fin and less bulbous head.
  • Female Killer Whale; has a much taller, upright dorsal fin and white patch on side of the head.