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Kauai Pilot Whales

Pilot whales are distributed throughout the world, and while most pods are nomadic, here in Hawaii there are resident, year-round populations. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for us to see pilot whales on any of our Kauai, Niihau and Napali Coast boat tours.

Despite the name, pilot whales are actually part of the oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae) along with killer whales, melon-headed whales, false killer whales, and others. They come in two varieties—long-finned and short-finned, the latter of which is what we have here in Hawaii.

Pilot whales are characterized by their big bulbous head and very dark coloring. They’re quite active, frequently lobtailing, spy-hopping and approaching boats. Their diet consists mainly of squid.

Kauai pilot whales

Pilot whales, living in groups of 10 to 90 members, are known for their strong, organized social structure and are among the most common stranders. Heartbreakingly, five pilot whales died here on Kauai’s Kalapaki Beach in October of 2017 in a group-stranding event. Whales strand for a variety of reasons, most commonly due to parasitic, bacterial, or viral infections.

Throughout history and to this day, humans have taken advantage of the species’ social nature, employing a hunting technique called “driving” to kill whales for meat, bone, fertilizer, and oil. Pilot whale hunting doesn’t exist in Hawaii, although the animals occasionally fall victim as bycatch in long-line fishing operations.