Long-finned Pilot Whale - Oceana

Marine Mammals

Long-finned Pilot Whale

Globicephala Melas


Temperate to sub-polar latitudes of the north Atlantic Ocean and the southern hemisphere


Coastal to open ocean (pelagic)

Feeding Habits

Active predator


Suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales), Family Delphinidae (dolphins)


Long-finned pilot whales are active predators that eat mostly squid, including relatively large-bodied species. They will also eat bony fishes when they are common. In some areas, the long-finned pilot whale can be observed forming mixed species groups with sperm whales (another toothed whale that feeds preferentially on squid) and also with smaller dolphins.

Like all mammals, long-finned pilot whales reproduce via internal fertilization and give birth to live young, which they nurse for more than two years. Mating can be somewhat rough, involving biting, head butting, and other aggressive behaviors. This species lives to an old age, and females are known to give birth well into their 50s.

The long-finned pilot whale has a curious distribution. It lives in temperate and colder latitudes of the north Atlantic Ocean and throughout the entire Southern Ocean. Though it does not commonly live in the tropics, its bipolar distribution implies that at least some individuals must transit through the tropics from time to time to connect the populations. It is also possible that these two populations actually represent separate species. Another population formerly existed in the temperate and colder latitudes of the north Pacific Ocean, but that population is now regionally extinct. Scientists believe overhunting to be partly to blame.

While the long-finned pilot whale is offered some or complete legal protection throughout much of its range, this dolphin is one of few cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) that is still hunted in some places around the world. It is likely that this hunting occurs at a sustainable level, but this species is also accidentally captured in fisheries targeting other species in other areas. The population trends are not well known, however, and scientists do not believe that they have sufficient data to determine the long-finned pilot whale’s conservation status.

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Additional Resources:

IUCN Red List

NOAA Fisheries