Globicephala melas - Long-finned pilot whale:

Summary Information
Living Organisms / Animalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Cetacea / Delphinidae / Globicephala / Species
Alternative Names
  • Pilot whale
  • Delphinus melas Traill, 1809; Scapa Bay, Orkney.
  • Globicephala melaena Thomas, 1898
Description Medium-sized long slender black/dark grey whale with square bulbous head, low dorsal fin just forward of centre of back and a distinctive white/light grey patch on ventral surface (B142, D23).


  • Male: 3,000-3,5000kg (B142)
  • Female:1,800-2,500kg (B142)
  • New-born: 60-80kg (B142)


  • 4.5-6m/15-20ft (D23)
  • Female about 4.0-5.0m, maximum 6.0m; male about 5.5-6.0m, maximum 8.5m (B142)

External Appearance:

  • Body: long and slender, more robust in older animals.
  • Head: square, bulbous (particularly in old males), with slightly protruding upper lip. Chin has anchor-shaped greyish white patch.
  • Teeth: small (less than 13mm diameter), peg-like, 8-12 pairs in each jaw.
  • Flippers: long - to 1/5 of body length, sickle-shaped, pointed.
  • Dorsal and flanks: black/dark grey, sometimes with grey saddle caudal to dorsal fin.
  • Abdomen variable extent grey area, palest in young animals.
  • Dorsal fin: slightly cranial of midpoint along back, fairly low, black or grey, in females and immatures sickle-shaped, in adult males flag-shaped.
  • Tail: stock has thick keel, flukes deeply notched centre and concave trailing edge.


Range and Habitat World:
  • North Atlantic and southern oceans; temperate waters.
  • Widespread in temperate areas, mainly offshore waters.
  • (B51, B142).

In North-eastern Atlantic:

  • Common, widely distributed from Iberian Peninsula to Faroes and Iceland; common in Mediterranean (B142).

British & Irish waters:

  • All coastal waters except southernmost North Sea. Greatest coastal populations in north-western and northern Scotland and along continental shelf edge west of Iceland.


  • May be seen all year, but in coastal waters most frequently September to January (B142).



  • Mainly pelagic (B142).
Further Information Food:
  • Mainly squid (Todarodes spp., also Ommastrephes spp. and Gonatus spp.)
  • Also fish (Gadus, Scomber, Pollachius, Molva, Dicentrarchus, Conger, Anguilla, Merluccius, Trisopterus spp.)
  • (B142).

Feeding Behaviour:-


  • No distinct breeding season.
  • Gestation about 14-16 months.
  • Lactation about 22 months.
  • Calving interval 3-4 years.
  • (B142).


  • Generally travel at about 5-15km/hour; can reach 40km/hour. (B142).

Social Behaviour:

  • Gregarious. Herds usually 20-40 individuals, sometimes much larger. (B142).

Northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere populations recognised as two distinct subspecies (B142).

Organisations (UK Contacts):

Electronic Library (further reading):

General Legislation:

Individual techniques:

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