Long-finned pilot whale

Globicephala melas
Long-finned pilot whale


Size: max 3.8-6.7m

Key features:
- Glossy black in colour
- Its dorsal fin looks like a smurfs hat or witches nose
- Bulbous forehead

Long-finned pilot whales are in fact dolphins not whales. They have a rounded bulbous head and a broad based dorsal fin that looks like a witch’s nose or a smurfs hat. They are glossy black in colour with a white underbelly.  Occasionally pilot whales like to spy-hop (where they pop their heads out of the water to have a look around) when they do this it is evident to see a white anchor shape on their chests. There are two species of pilot whale found in the northern hemisphere, long-finned and short-finned, when spotted in the ocean; they are very hard to tell apart unless their fins are seen.


Pilot whales travel in family groups of 2 to 50 individuals. They feed during the night, so their day time behaviour is usually travelling leisurely and logging at the surface. They are playful and inquisitive, actively approaching ships and spy hopping, tail slapping and breaching. They associate with bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins and other cetaceans.


Around the world two distinct populations are recognised, 1 in the southern hemisphere and the other in the North Atlantic. Long-finned pilot whales prefer deep water but make seasonal inshore movements to hunt migrating prey such as cuttlefish, squid and fish. The range of the long-finned pilot whale does overlap with the short-finned pilot whale so the pectoral fins must be seen to ensure identification is correct.


Long-finned pilot whales are particularly susceptible to stranding due to the fact they have strong social bonds in their family groups. If an individual within the group becomes sick, injured or gets lost the rest of the pod will follow. Pilot whales have also known to get entangled in fishing nets, are susceptible to sonar and are hunted in the Faroe Islands.

Sightings Map

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