sfpw | San Diego Whale Watch 1

Short-Finned Pilot Whale

Globicephala macrorhynchus


12-23 feet(3.7-7m)


Up to 6,600 pounds (3,000 kg)


Found worldwide in tropical and temperate oceans.




Pilot whales are large, robust cetaceans that are primarily all dark slate-gray to black in coloration, with a lighter gray patch behind the dorsal fin. These animals have a distinctive bulbous forehead (called a “melon”), with a very slight beak and an up-curved mouthline.

Pilot Whales are the second largest members of the dolphin family, second only to the Killer Whale. Two distinct species are recognized; the Short-Finned Pilot Whale and the Long-Finned Pilot Whale. As their name indicates, Short-Finned Pilot Whales can be recognized by their significantly shorter pectoral flippers that end in a gentle curve. They also have fewer teeth than Long-Finned Pilot Whales.

Pilot whales feed primarily on squid; however, they have been known to eat octopus, cuttlefish, herring, and other small fish when squid is unavailable.

Pilot Whales are very sociable and are almost always encountered in groups. Pods can range in size from 10-30 individuals, with few encounters documenting over 200. The name “Pilot Whale” stems from the belief that the pod is “piloted” by a single matriarch.

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