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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Other Sea Life


Toothed Whales

Sperm Whale

Pilot Whale

Beaked Whales


Toothed Whales

Pilot Whales

Long-finned Pilot Whale
Globicephala melas

Short-finned Pilot Whale
G. macrorhynchus

Comments to webmaster

Pilot Whale Emmalee Tarry

Pilot Whale's dorsal fin is wider at the base than top, Photo by Emmalee Tarry.

 Also called Blackfish.

Pilot Whales are toothed whales in the Subfamily Orcinae which contains the Pilot Whales, Risso's Dolphin (some authors) and Killer Whales.

Two species are possible in New England waters the Long-finned Pilot Whale ranges more to the north and the Short-finned Pilot Whale to the south of Cape Cod. It is not possible to reliably separate the two in the field.

Small to medium sized species having a rounded head without a well-define beak usually called a melon. The melon overhangs the mouth. The dorsal fin is wider at the base than it is tall and located on the front 1/3 of the body.

Like other toothed whales, it has a single blow hole. The blow of the Pilot Whale is very small and often not seen from a distance. Chris Ciccone captured this photograph of two Pilot Whales both clearly showing the small puffy blow.

Mostly black on back and flanks. There is a white anchor shaped patch on the belly.Folkens(2002) has good pictures of the anchor patch and there is also a picture on the Wikipedia web site

There may be a light gray blaze above and behind the eye usually on more southern animals. The author has never observed this trait. The saddle ( area behind the dorsal fin ) may be light gray.

Fins are long, slender, and pointed.

Pilot Whale Blow Chris Ciccone

Like other toothed whales, it has a single blow hole. The blow of the Pilot Whale is very small and often not seen from a distance. Chris Ciccone captured this photograph of two Pilot Whales both clearly showing the small puffy blow.

White anchor shape on belly of pilot whale is seldom observed at sea.  Risso's dolphin has the same marking.

Pilot Whale blow hole Scott Spangenberg

This Scott Spangenber photo of the Pilot Whale shows the single blow hole typical of Toothed Whales and Dolphins.

Scott  Spangenberg picture of three Pilot Whales. Pilot Whale like other toothed whales and dolphins often associate in mixed groups called pods.  Just for fun what Storm-petrel is flying by?   Answer mouse over picture.

Social Behavior
Small groups of 5-10 Pilot Whale may be seen off the coast of New England especially in the fall. Larger groups of up to 30 individuals are common. The pods contain females and their female and male offspring. Both females and males stay with their mother’s pod for life. The males leave only to join another pod temporarily to mate and then returning to the natal pod. This is most unusual behavior for mammals.

The Long-finned Pilot Whale is divided into two populations. The one most concerned with the North East is the larger population It inhabits the North Atlantic Ocean, in a band from South Carolina in the United States across to the Azores and Morocco at its southern edge and from Newfoundland to Greenland, Iceland, and northern Norway at its northern limit. This population is estimated at 778,000 individuals. “

(Wikipedia )

The Short-finned Pilot Whale prefers warmer waters and in the Atlantic overlaps with the Long-finned Pilot Whale. It is also found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Both species of Pilot Whale primarily eat squid and follow the migration of the squid from the edge of the continental shelf to shallower water in the fall. They also eat various species of fish.

Off the coast of New England, we tend to see the Pilot Whale all summer long on longer trips to the continental shelf edge south of Cape Cod and in fall when the whales migrate closer to shore we see them on Stellwagen Bank and Jeffreys Ledge.

The Pilot Whale seems to have an unfortunate tendency to ground itself on beaches where sometimes they can be coaxed back into the ocean at high tide, but often perish. The author saw a beached Pilot Whale at Quincy Bay and several on Cape Cod.

Pilot Whale dorsal fin Scott Spangenberg

This Pilot Whale seems to have a bite out of its dorsal fin.  This may have been caused by fishing gear.  Since it was part of a pod which spent some time cruising around the boat on a Continental Shelf trip it was easy to identify.

Pilot whale Scott Spangenberg

Smaller members of the same pod of Pilot whales.  One appears to be a baby.  Scott Spangenberg took both pictures. Pilot Whales are still taken for food by Japan and in the Faeroe Island. Conservation status is Least Concerned see wikipedia.

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Folkens, Peter (2002) Guide to Marine Mammals of the World Alfred A. Knopf New York
Kinze, Carl Charistian (2001) Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic Princeton University Press Princeton NJ