Fast Facts

  • Classification
  • Size Range
    6 m

The most distinctive feature of the Short-finned Pilot Whale is the bulbous to squarish melon head and very short beak.


The mouth line of the Short-finned Pilot Whale is slanted upwards towards the eye giving the animal the appearance of a permanent smile. The body is dark grey to black with a lighter patch near the large dorsal fin. The flippers are short but this is a relative size difference when compared to the closely related Long-finned Pilot Whale. The common name 'pilot whale' for both species is thought to be come from the theory that there is a lead animal or pilot that guides the group.


This is a widespread and abundant species within temperate and tropical latitudes. It appears to prefer deep water areas but is regularly observed near land and on occasion will mass strand. Its regular appearance in some areas may be closely related to movement of its prey.

Feeding and diet

The Short-finned Pilot Whale is a squid specialist and it is the movements and abundance or otherwise of these prey species that influences the location and activity of pilot whales. They will take fish on occasion and are often seen in association with other cetaceans such as Bottlenose Dolphins.

Life history cycle

This is a species with strong social affiliations and occurs in pods of 15 animals to 50. These groups consist of mixed ages and sexes, with a majority of female members. The seasonal timing of the birth of young varies with location but the gestation period is 15 months. The period between births can vary from five to eight years which suggests a relatively long lived species that includes long term care of the young.

Conservation status

Despite exploitation in some areas such as Japan and the Caribbean, the Short-finned Pilot Whale is considered a common species. Continued hunting of particular populations however could have some long term impacts on the life history of these groups.


  • Baker, A. N. 1999. Whales and Dolphins of Australia and New Zealand: an identification guide. Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, Australia.
  • Bryden, M., Marsh, H. and Shaughnessy, P. 1998. Dugongs, Whales, Dolphins and Seals. A guide to the sea mammals of Australasia. Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, Australia.
  • Menkhorst, P. 2001. A Field Guide to Mammals of Australia. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia.
  • Reeves, R. R., Stewart, B. S., Clapham, P. J. and Powell, J. A. 2002. National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. Chanticleer Press, Inc New York, USA.

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