Pilot whales are the second biggest dolphin species after the orca. There are 2 species of Pilot whales: the Long-finned and the Short-finned.

The two species are very hard to tell apart when observed at sea but they have different distribution ranges. Despite being situated in the overlap area, the Azores are mainly frequented by the Short-finned Pilot Whale so we will focus on them.

Short – finned Pilot Whale/Globicephala macrorhynchus

This species can be seen throughout the whole year in the  archipelago but are more frequent between May and October.

Groups are usually found in deep water areas and are very easy to tell apart from other species at close range. The lack of beak, bulbous head and broad dorsal fin are typical diagnostic characteristics. The shape of the dorsal fin varies with gender and age, so it is very useful. Males have dorsal fins with very broad bases and are more rounded than the females.

Male Pilot Whale


Female Pilot Whales

Pilot whales are highly sociable animals that live in groups of 10 to 20 animals but can sometimes be seen in groups of hundreds of individuals. These groups are dominated by the females that always stay with their natal groups. The males, in lower numbers, abandon their mother’s group to join other where they can mate with the females.

Unfortunately, due to their social cohesion, these animals have regular mass strandings. If one individual is ill or is disoriented, the others will follow it to the beach and end up stranding as well…

To end with a happy note I leave you with this adorable calf!

Baby Short-finned Pilot Whale

Catarina Fonseca

About Catarina Fonseca

Catarina is Marine Biologist and was Main Guide and Technical & Scientific Director at TERRA AZUL from 2014 to 2017. She is dedicated, knowledgeable and a passionate friend to animals and humans. We hope she can come back soon to wildlife experiences with us. , and everyday works on ensuring the highest educational and conservation standards during spractice. She also contributes collecting Data collection for MONICET – The Azores Islands Cetaceans Research & Conservation long-term monitoring project.

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