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Short-finned Pilot Whale [1]
Size comparison against an average human
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Genus: Globicephala
Species: G. macrorhynchus
Binomial name
Globicephala macrorhynchus
Gray, 1846
Range map

The Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) is one of the two species of cetacean in the genus Globicephala. It is part of the oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae), though its behaviour is closer to that of the larger whales.

Short-finned Pilot Whales can be confused with their relatives the long-finned pilot whales, but there are various differences. As their names indicate, their flippers are shorter than those of the Long-finned Pilot Whale, with a gentler curve on the edge. They have fewer teeth than the Long-finned Pilot Whale, with 14 to 18 on each jaw. Short-finned pilot whales are black or dark grey with a grey or white cape. They have grey or almost white patches on their bellies and throats and a grey or white stripe which goes diagonally upwards from behind each eye.

Adult males may have a number of scars on their bodies. Their heads are bulbous and this can become more defined in older males. Their dorsal fins vary in shape depending on how old the whale is and whether it is male or female. They have flukes with sharply pointed tips, a distinct notch in the middle and concave edges. They tend to be quite slender when they are young, becoming more stocky as they get older.

Field ID: Stocky body, bulbous forehead, no prominent beak, long flippers sharply pointed at the tip, black or dark grey colour, fin set forward on body, fluke raised before deep dive, may float motionless at the surface, frequently seen in very large groups, prefers deep water, may be approached.

Length (metres): Adults are 3.5 - 6.5 metres in length. When they are born short-finned pilot whales are about 1.4-1.9 metres long.

Weight: At birth, Short-finned Pilot Whales weigh about 60kg (135lb). A fully grown adult will weigh between 1 and 4 tonnes.

Diet: Fish, Squid, Octopus


Short-finned Pilot Whales are very sociable and are rarely seen alone. They are found in groups of ten to thirty, though some pods are as large as sixty. They are sometimes seen logging and will allow boats to get quite close. They rarely breach, but may be seen lobtailing (slapping their flukes on the water surface) and spyhopping (poking their heads above the surface). Before diving, they arch their tails and raise them above the surface. When coming to the surface to breathe, adults tend to show only the top of their head, whereas calves will throw their entire head out of the water. Adults occasionally porpoise (lift most of the body out of the water) when swimming particularly quickly.

They are known as the 'Cheetahs of the Deep' for the high speed pursuits of squids at depths of hundreds of metres.


  1. ^ Mead, James G. and Robert L. Brownell, Jr (November 16, 2005). Wilson, D. E., and Reeder, D. M. (eds). ed. Mammal Species of the World (3rd edition ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 723–743. ISBN 0-801-88221-4.  
  2. ^ Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L. (2008). Globicephala macrorhynchus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 26 February 2009.
  • WDCS (Danish)


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