Fun Pilot Whale Facts For Kids

Moumita Dutta
May 10, 2023 By Moumita Dutta
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Jacob Fitzbright
Fact-checked by Shikha Sharma
Pilot whale facts for kids are educational.

Pilot whales are the largest member of the groups of dolphins and are further divided into two species, the long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas), and the short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus).

These dolphins were given the name 'pilot whale' because it was noticed by marine biologists that they follow a leader or a 'pilot' who leads the pod. The behavior of pilot whales is similar to that of common dolphins and they are friendly and curious, often getting close to humans who are in the water.

They are highly social animals and spend the entirety of their lives in pods or groups in the North Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans with a good number also living in the Mediterranean Sea.

Even though their population is at a stable rate, they have been victims of whaling as fisheries in the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and the Falkland Islands captured them and sold their meat in fish markets. If you liked these facts about pilot whales, then you'll surely like these facts about the sei whale and the killer whale.

Pilot Whale Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a pilot whale?

Pilot whales are marine mammals. Their name might make you think they are whales, but in fact, they are the largest members of the dolphin family!

Pilot whales are further divided into two species of pilot whales, the short-finned pilot whale, and the long-finned pilot whale. Pilot whales live in a tight-knit pod from the time they are calves until they become adults as they are highly social.

What class of animal does a pilot whale belong to?

Pilot whales belong to the Mammalia class of animals.

How many pilot whales are there in the world?

The population count of these marine mammals is estimated to be around 1 million for the long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) and 700,000 for the short-finned pilot whale, in tropical and temperate waters.

Where does a pilot whale live?

Pilot whales are often found in the North Pacific Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea. The pilot whale is usually a nomadic species, but a few resident populations have been found in different locations.

What is a pilot whale's habitat?

The two species of these whales can be found in tropical and temperate waters and live at varying distances from the shore, in deeper waters. Long-finned pilot whales, however, prefer colder waters compared to short-finned whales.

Both species live along coast-line and continental shelf slopes and breaks. Since these whales feed primarily on squid, their population density is high in the temperate and tropical marine range, mostly in the southern oceans that have a high population of squids.

Long-finned pilot whales can dive to a great depth of 98.4-5905 ft (30-1800 m).

Who do pilot whales live with?

These animals are known to form strong social bonds with others of their species and form family or social groups and form pods, just like dolphins. They spend their entire life in this pod, with calves remaining with their mothers until they are adults.

The group will provide food like squid for each other and males will protect the group from predators and other marine animals. Numerous pods gather for a short time in an attempt to allow individuals from different pods to interact for mating purposes.

How long does a pilot whale live?

Both the long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) and the short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) share a similar lifespan, which is between 45 years to 60 years of age. 60 years is the average for adult females and 45 years is the average for adult males.

How do they reproduce?

The long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas) and the short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) are polygynous, meaning a male will mate with multiple females and a female will mate with only one male throughout their life.

Both pilot whale species have a similar sexual maturity age, the males become sexually mature when they are 12 years old and the females become sexually mature when they are six years old.

Mating usually takes place between pods when large populations come together and form a single pod. Males from one pod will travel to the other to take part in mating and females stay together in a single pod.

Mating in this species occurs throughout the year and after insemination, the gestation period of the females is around 16 months. Females give birth to one offspring.

What is their conservation status?

Pilot whales have been currently listed by the IUCN Red List as a species of Least Concern, as their populations in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans along with the Mediterranean Sea and the Southern Ocean are at a stable rate.

There are, however, issues like mass strandings that occur due to parasitic infections that interfere with their nervous system causing neurological disorders.

Pilot whales have also been hunted in Japan, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands due to which their population in these areas has dwindled as they reproduce slowly and are unable to make up for the lost individuals.

Pilot Whale Fun Facts

What do pilot whales look like?

Pilot whales have a dark-gray tone to them with a lighter patch behind their fin and white streaks behind their eyes. Their dorsal fin is rounded. Their main feature is their large, bulbous, head which is the shape of a melon. They have an anchor-shaped patch on their ventral surface.

Males are larger than females in size and have a relatively longer base with their dorsal fin being far forward in their bodies.

How cute are they?

Both the long-finned pilot whales and the short-finned pilot whales are curious and socially adept. Their playful and easily sociable nature among adults as well as calves makes them as cute as dolphins.

How do they communicate?

Pilot whales communicate with each other through audible whistles! The intensity of the whistle increases when they are excited or when the group is hunting in their habitat. When these whales are traveling at high speeds, complex whistling can be heard.

Since the group of these whales has a wide range, they use echolocation to navigate and orient themselves in the large marine world surrounding them. They also communicate through squeals, clicks, and snoring sounds.

How big is a pilot whale?

Pilot whales are the largest dolphins in the world and can become huge in length! Both the long-finned pilot whales and the short-finned pilot weight measure between 145.6-283.4 in (370-720 cm). Compared to that, an average bottle-nosed dolphin is only 78.7-157.4 in (200-400 cm) long.

How fast can a pilot whale swim?

Pilot whales are agile creatures and can reach up to 20mph (32.1 kph) when chasing prey.

How much does a pilot whale weigh?

Pilot whale's weight, just like their body length justifies their huge stature. Both the long-finned and the short-finned pilot whales weigh in between 1763.7-6613.8 lb (800-3000 kg).

What are the male and female names of the species?

No particular name has been assigned to either sex of the long-finned pilot whales or the short-finned pilot whales.

What would you call a baby pilot whale?

Baby pilot whales are called calves. At birth, calves weigh around 100kg and have a length of 70.8 in (180 cm).

Pilot whale calves spend most of their lives in groups they have been born and raised in and when as adults, males leave their groups to take part in mating in other groups that have mixed with them.

What do they eat?

Pilot whales feed mainly on squid. Other parts of the diet of these whale populations are mollusks, and fish, like mackerel and herring. Unlike other large dolphins, like Orcas, pilot whales do not eat dolphins.

Are they dangerous?

Pilot whales are one of the most docile species of animals found in the marine ecosystem. They can show aggressive behavior and curiosity when approaching unknown objects and might attack humans out of curiosity, but other than that, they are harmless.

Would they make a good pet?

No, these large mammals cannot be kept as pets! Their behavior cannot be predicted, making them an unknown entity as pets. There are, however, many pilot whales that are kept under conservation who are the survivors of mass strandings and are taken care of by humans.

Did you know...

Pilot whales eat around 70 lb (31.7 kg) of food every day to maintain their body balance.

Pilot whales are nocturnal and usually hunt at night.

Pilot whales have the longest period between mating. They give birth to calves in an interval of between four and five years.

During the mating period, males will fight each other to draw the attention of the female by ramming into each other.

Pilot whales are also known as the cheetahs of the deep.

They have sickle-shaped flippers to help them in hunting, alongside their 40-48 teeth that can kill prey in a matter of minutes.

Do pilot whales have any predators?

Pilot whales do have predators. Orcas, or killer whales, are one of the most amusing and dangerous predators of pilot whales, alongside large shark species.

Orcas are the apex predators of the sea and ocean world and not many can escape them, but pilot whales often come together in groups and chase away Orcas to protect themselves and their young.

Why are pilot whales called pilot whales?

Despite their name, pilot whales are members of the dolphin group, and are the largest one! They were named pilot whales because it was seen that they follow a leader, or a 'pilot', who drives the pod forward.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals including the barbet and the black rat.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one of our pilot whale coloring pages.

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Written by Moumita Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

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Moumita DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.

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Fact-checked by Shikha Sharma

Bachelor of Commerce

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Shikha SharmaBachelor of Commerce

Shikha has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Delhi. She also holds a Diploma in Information Technology, which has helped her acquire technical and design skills.

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