Pilot whales belong to the family of the oceanic dolphins as are their larger cousins the killer whales. There are two species the long-finned pilot whale and the short-finned pilot whale. Common throughout the world’s oceans, the long-finned species lives in cold waters only, the short-finned species prefers warm tropical waters.
Pilot whales grow to about 5 to 6 meters and can weigh in up to 3 tons.
They are nomads living in open seas usually avoiding shallow coastal waters.
Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
Seeing a pod of pilot whales is quite common outside Fijis reefs and lagoons. Any time of the year those members of these oceanic dolphin family may be seen.
Pilot whales are very social, they live in family pods of a few dozen individuals. Occasionally they join with other groups to form very large pods of many hundred animals spread out over a wide ocean area.
Often the mingle with bottlenose or spinner dolphins for protections or to hunt together. On occasions, we have also seen them around humpback whales.
Pilot whales can be very curious, sometimes approaching a drifting boat, they regularly sky hop -pushing their heads vertical high out of the water and looking at the boat and people.
Sometimes exciting snorkeling experiences are possible. When in the water one can clearly hear their whistles and clicks, with which they communicate and navigate.
Pilot Whales hunt together using sound, air bubbles and group coordination to outsmart their food animals. The Pilot Whale feeds mainly on squid, but they may also eat other small mesopelagic fish.
Pilot whale Stranding
Of the toothed whales, pilot whales hold the record of beaching themselves. It is not really understood what leads to those group strandings. Theories range from anomalies in earth magnetic field, the leader of the pod beeing sick and disoriented or infrasound and noise pollution in the world oceans. But their strong social bond lets even healthy members of the pods follow the disoriented individuals into the shallows.
Pilot whales have always been hunted in history. This, fortunately, has stopped and today only a few hundred pilot whales are commercially hunted today.
Countries engaging in the pilot whale hunt are the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Japan.
Pilot whales “take fish” that have been hooked on long lines, as reported by companies involved in the longline fishing industry. The number of whales hooking themselves in the process is not known.
Exact data on the worldwide number of pilot whales is inefficient. Figures of their total population staus are estimated to be around 1 million