Pilot Whales: the deep-diving blackfish

By 09/06/2019Articles

For those who ever get the chance to share a moment with a group of Pilot Whales, don’t miss out!
Observing these admirable cetaceans is really special.

As you can read in one of our previous posts, this week our guests were lucky to encounter several groups.

In Pilot Whales two species are recognized: the Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas) and the Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus). They are both members of the Delphinidae family (so they are actually dolphins). Here in the Azores it’s the Short-finned that can be spotted most likely, on occasional basis.


Pilot Whales have a bulbous beakless head, a falcate dorsal fin set well forward on the body and sickle shaped flippers. Source: Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals IIIrd Ed. Bernd Würsig, I. G. M. Thewissen & KIT M. Kovacs.


Most Pilot Whales appear black or dark grey in color. That’s why they are also called ‘blackfish’. If you want to know more about one of our other blackfish species, read our previous post.

Pilot Whales show sexual dimorphism in size, similar to that observed in Sperm Whales and Killer Whales. As you can see in the picture above, adult males are longer than females, develop a more pronounced melon and have a much larger dorsal fin.

They are highly social and are usually observed in schools of 20 – 90 individuals. They can dive up to 800 meters.


Short-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) socializing next to Terra Azul boat.


The Pilot Whale diet consists primarily of squid. Because they feed mostly at night, we can observe their typical logging behavior (resting at the surface) during the day. This usually comes together with a moment of complete silence by our guests :-). It’s so amazing to be on a quiet ocean, engines off and just listen to the whales breathing.

Today we even saw them together with a group of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Pilot Whales are often observed in mixed species aggregations.


Pilot Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins interacting together during our last trip.



Würsig B., Thewissen J.G.M., Kovacs K. M. 2018. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, third edition. pp. 701-704

Jessie Ocket

About Jessie Ocket

Jessie has a strong passion for the ocean and wildlife. Joined the TERRA AZUL team as Volunteer Marine Wildlife Guide in 2019, enjoying out at sea with wildlife, accompanying and informing visitors, and collecting field imagery and data for local Cetaceans and Sea Turtles Research & Conservation projects.

Your thoughts on this?