Long-Finned Pilot Whale

In spite of their name, pilot whales are actually members of the dolphin family. Highly social by nature, they live in groups called pods.

Pods of long-finned pilot whales can comprise up to 90 individuals. Males in the group are likely to join up for a period and then move on, fighting amongst themselves to mate with the females. Long-finned pilot whales can ram each other and bite, leaving permanent scars. The long-finned pilot whales species tend to be found in cooler water than its short-finned relative, but both in the north and southern parts of their range there are areas where their distributions overlap.

Distribution: Circumpolar range through southern waters, from southern parts of South America, South Africa and Australia to the Antarctic. Also in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Weight: 1.2 - 2.4 tonnes (1.3 - 2.6 tons); males are much bigger.

Length: 4.88 - 6.10 m (16 - 20 ft).

Maturity: Females 6-7 years; males around 12 years.

Gestation Period: About 310 days.

Breeding: 1; weaning typically occurs by 2 years old.

Diet: Feeds mainly on squid, as well as octopus, cuttlefish and herring.

Lifespan: Over 50 years.

Dorsal fin

This curves significantly and has a long base.


These are much longer in this species, distinguishing it from its short-finned relative.


This can range from dark grey through to black, with a pale grey area on its underparts.


The head is rounded, with the upper jaw protruding over the lower jaw in males.

Soft food

Feeding on squid, pilot whales only have about 40 teeth in their jaws, whereas fish-eating dolphins have over 100.


Long-finned pilot whales sometimes beach themselves, possibly because of illness or interference in their navigational abilities caused by sonar from vessels.