Short-finned pilot whale

Globicephala macrorhynchus

3.5 - 7m



Dorsal fin

At sea, this animal is virtually impossible to tell apart from the long-finned pilot whale unless the pectoral fins are seen. When compared to long-finned pilot whales, short-finned pilot whales have fewer teeth, a different skull shape (not visible in the field) and a less pronounced bend in their pectoral fins.  Short-finned pilot whales are glossy black in colour with a grey saddle patch behind their dorsal fin. Males have a larger, broader-based dorsal fin than females. 

Key features: 

  • Bulbous melon, blunt beak, pale blaze from eye to saddle patch 
  • Broad, round dorsal fin forward to centre
  • Dorsal fin looks like a smurf's hat or a witch's nose
  • Long, slender pectoral fins, 1/6 of the body length 
  • Prominent arched tailstock when surfacing 


As short-finned pilot whales feed at night, they are typically seen moving slowly at the surface during the day, allowing boats to approach them. They are also sometimes seen lob-tailing, spy-hopping and breaching. They are very social animals and are almost never seen alone. Typically shot-finned pilot whales are seen in family groups of 2 - 40 individuals but larger groups are sighted at feeding grounds. 


The short-finned pilot whale is captured for aquaria around the world. It is also targeted in Japanese drive fisheries and hunts. Other threats include; entanglement in fishing nets and noise pollution.


Unlike long-finned pilot whales, short-finned pilot whales like deep warm temperate to tropical waters worldwide. Some do overlap with the long-finned pilot whale in southern parts of the North Atlantic. The species tend to stay offshore unless their prey of squid re spawning in which case they may move inshore.

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