Pilot whales are probably the most commonly seen member of the “Blackfish” family of dolphins on our Niihau tours from Kauai. We have at least a dozen or so encounters per year. They are local residents, rarely moving too far from home, although they do go far enough off shore to get hooked in long line fleet fishing lines, with injury or death being the all too frequent result.
The Pilot Whale is one of two species of cetacean in the genus Globicephala. The genus is part of the oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae) although their behaviour is closer to that of the larger whales. The two species are the Long-finned Pilot Whale and the Short-finned Pilot Whale. The two are not readily distinguished at sea and are typically just known simply as Pilot Whales. They and other large members of the dolphin family are also known as blackfish.
Pilot Whales are jet black or a very dark grey color. The dorsal fin is set forward on the back and sweeps back. The body is elongated but stocky in the tail fin.
Birth weight is about 100 kg (220 pounds). Adult weight can be up to about three tons for a large male. They are generally between four and seven meters in length with a life span of about 45 years for males and 60 years for females of both species.
Both species live in groups of about 10 to 30 in number. They are quite active and will frequently lobtail, spyhop and approach boats.
As compared to their other tooth-whale relatives they have many fewer teeth; this is probably an adaption to their diet of mainly squid.
Both species of Pilot Whale are killed in the hundreds or perhaps thousands in longline and gillnets each year.
See Wikipedia, “Pilot Whale”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilot_Whale