Long-finned pilot whale

Globicephala melas


Size: max 6.5m

Key feature: Glossy black in colour

Long-finned pilot whales are not actually whales, but dolphins. They have a rounded bulbous head and a broad based dorsal fin that looks like a witches nose or a smurfs hat. They are glossy black in colour with a white underbelly.  occasionally pilot whales like to spyhop (where they pop their heads out of the water to have a look around) when they do this it is evident to see a white anchor shape on their chests. There are two species of pilot whale found in the northern hemisphere, long-finned and short-finned, when spotted in the ocean; they are very hard to tell apart unless their fins are seen.


Pilot whales travel in family groups of 2 to 50 individuals. They feed during the night, so their day time behaviour is usually travelling leisurely and logging at the surface. They are playful and inquisitive, actively approaching ships and spy hopping, tail slapping and breaching. They associate with Bottlenose dolphins and other cetaceans.


Long-finned Pilot whales are common in cool temperate to subtropical waters, around the world, except the North Pacific. They are seen both inshore and offshore throughout Europe. Around the UK they can be seen along the coasts of Scotland during the summer and in the English Channel and Western Approach in the winter. They have been seen on ORCA survey trips through the Bay of Biscay and in the wider Atlantic and along the Norweigan coast.


Long-finned pilot whales are particularly susceptible to stranding due to the fact they have strong social bonds in their family groups. If an individual within the group becomes sick, injured or gets lost the rest of the pod will follow. Pilot whales have also know to get entangled in fishing nets and are also subject to hunting in the Faroe Islands.

To view this map full screen please click the link 'view larger map' at the top of the map. You can zoom in by using the scroll on your mouse or using the + and - buttons on the map. Click and drag the map to move it around and see different areas. The arrow on the top left of the map will bring out a legend for you. You can click on each icon on the map to find out the date, time, latitude, longitude, route, vessel, species, and group size seen for that species at that point.