Short-finned Pilot Whale – The deep diving ‘black fish’

By 11/03/2020Mammals

Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhyncus) is a member of the dolphin family and are also known as Black Fish. The Black fish family (named from their black skin color)  also includes Killer Whale (Orcinus orca), False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens), Pigmy Killer Whale (Feresa attenuata) and Melon-headed Whale (Peponocephala electra). Pilot whales are so named because it was once believed that each observed group was navigated by a pilot or leader.  Their Latin name, Globicephala, means “round head”, which is one of the main identifying characteristic of the species.


An adult female Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhyncus).




  • Latin name :Globicephala macrorhynchus
  • Suborder : Odotonceti
  • Family: Delphinidae
  • Length : 6 to 8 m
  • Weight : 1 800 to 3 500 kg
  • Dive time : up to 10 minutes
  • Dive depth: up to 600 m
  • IUCN Status: Least concern



Worldwide distribution of Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus). Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals IIIrd Ed. Bernd Würsig, I. G. M. Thewissen & KIT M. Kovacs



Color: All black, sometimes with grey bands near the eyes. Grey-white mark on the throat.

Head: Bulbous melon

Fins: Thick and falcate dorsal fin for male similar to a smurf hat, triangular for female. Elongated and falciform pectoral fins.

Teeth: 8 to 13 pairs  per jaw


Two Short-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhyncus) diving.




Short-finned Pilot Whales are feeding almost exclusively on squid and octopus, occasionally on small schooling fish (e.g., cod, herring, mackerel). They eat up to 45 kg of food per day.



Sexual maturity is reached at the age of 6 years (female) and 12 years old (male). The gestation lasts about 16 months and occurs once every 3 to 5 years. At birth, calves measure around 1.8 meter in length.



 Short-finned Pilot Whales live in pods containing often more than 100 individuals. They often spy-hop and tail-slap but seldom breach.


Short-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhyncus) socializing.



Short-finned Pilot Whales have a wide vocal repertoire, including shrills, whistles, chirps, buzzing sound, and snores used for social functions. Clicks are also used for echolocation. You can listen a Short-finned Pilot Whale communicating in this recording collected by NOAA Fisheries.




Top cover illustrations by Uko Gorter. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals IIIrd Ed. Bernd Würsig, I. G. M. Thewissen & KIT M. Kovacs.

About Marylou

Marylou is a Marine Biologist and Master in Oceanography. She is one of our Marine Wildlife Guide and is responsible for Science Education at TERRA AZUL. Originally from France, she studied in Canada and Belgium and loves being out to sea to share her knowledge with you.

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