top of page

Short-finned Pilot Whale


Scientific name: Globicephala macrorhinchus. 
Order: Artiofactyla.
Family: Delphinidae. 
Genus:  Globicenphala.

IUCN Status

Least concern.

Other names

Pothead whale.


Black to dark grey, with a lighter grey saddle behind the dorsal fin, and an anchor-shaped patch on their underbelly. They have a bulbous forehead with no protruding beak. The dorsal fin is thick, curved or hook-shaped, swept-back, and a rounded edge. It is set 1/3 of the way back from the head. Males can reach lengths up to 7.2 meters and females can reach 5.7 meters in length. The males tend to be longer, have a chunkier dorsal fin, a more bulbous fin, and they sometimes have scarring on their bodies. The females have a more upright sickle shaped dorsal fin, that is finely tipped.

Habitat and distribution

It is estimated that there are 700,000 short-finned pilot whales left in the oceans. They are found all around the world from tropical to temperate waters. There have been sightings in the Bay of Biscay and around the north Spanish coast.


Short-finned pilot whales live in pods of about 10 to 50 individuals but have been in pods of over 100. They often swim slowly and leisurely, close to the surface, and will often show their forehead when surfacing. Short-finned pilot whales frequently display behaviours such as spy hopping, tail lobbing, and have been known to approach boats allowing people to view them.

Confusion with other species

Long-finned pilot whale: out at sea and from a distance they look the same, but they have longer pectoral fins and have a paler saddle behind the dorsal fin.

Female killer whales: taller upright dorsal fin and a white patch on the side of their head.


As they have strong social bonds with members of their pods, mass stranding events of this species are known to occur. Short-finned pilot whales are captured to be put into captivity for human entertainment. Other threats include entanglement in fishing nets and noise pollution.

Interesting facts

They can dive to depths of 1000 meters for 10 to 16 minutes at a time.

bottom of page