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Long-finned Pilot Whale

Head picture, showing markings on underbelly

Head picture, showing markings on underbelly

Dorsal fin

Dorsal fin

Distribution map

Distribution map


Scientific name: Globicephala melas.
Order: Artiodactyla.
Family: Delphinidae. 
Genus: Golbicephala.

IUCN status

Least concern


Long and heavily built whale that are black with a grey ‘saddle’ behind the dorsal fin, though this sometimes not noticeable. Under the throat and underbelly, they have pale grey to white markings. They have a bulbous head and no protruding beak.

The dorsal fin is set about 1/3 of the way back from the head; males have a larger dorsal fin that is squashed in appearance, whereas the females are more upright and have blunt tips.

Habitat and distribution

It is estimated that there are 98,000 long-finned pilot whales in the ocean, however, the exact number is not known. 

Long-finned pilot whales tend to be found in cold to temperate waters and are occasionally seen near the shore. Some populations are residents all year round, however they tend to migrate where there is an abundance of food.

They are regularly recorded in deep waters as well as in the shallow waters of the Western English Channel.


Long-finned pilot whales are social animals, often seen in pods of 10 to 20 animals, mostly made up of more females than males. They have been socializing with other species of dolphins and whales.

They are very inquisitive animals, often seen spy-hopping, tail slapping, and resting on the surface.

Long-finned pilot whales breathe frequently at the surface before diving for a few minutes. It has been known for them to dive underwater to depths close to 2000 meters.

Confusion with other species

Long-finned pilot whales can often be confused with short-finned pilot whales as they are almost identical. However, the main difference is short-finned pilot whales have shorter pectoral fins.

False killer whales: similar in both size and colour, but they often show their whole head before surfacing. They have a more falcate dorsal fin and a less bulbous head.

Female killer whales: much taller, upright dorsal fins and white patches on the side of the head.


Due to the strong social bonds that they have, there are sometimes mass strandings on beaches. Noise pollutions from ships and boats can affect their ability to hunt as they rely on sound to communicate and find food. It is known for them to become entangled in fishing gear dropped or left in the ocean, which can result in injuries.

Interesting facts

Long-finned pilot whale have strong maternal instincts and have been seen looking after other whale calves.

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