Pilot Whales are in fact not true “whales,” but rather like Orcas are part of the Delphinidae (dolphin) family. Still, they are magnificent creatures that inhabit the world’s oceans and lead complex, social lives. We decided to cover this species because of the recent Netflix documentary Seaspiracy. In it, a large family group (pod) of Pilot Whales are slaughtered by inhabitants of the Faroe Islands. For nothing more than “tradition.” We wanted to learn more about these animals to understand the true nature of just how complex these animals are and why they are important to our world’s oceans. These creatures and the many other whales and dolphin species are in decline. We need to learn more about them and more importantly, protect them!
Pilot Whale History
Whale evolution is fascinating as their earliest ancestors were land mammals that lived nearly 56 million years ago. Whales are members of the Order Artiodactyla, or even-toed ungulates. Their closest relatives are actually hippos. Early ancestors of whales began to venture out into the world’s oceans 49 million years ago in the region surrounding India. For the next few million years, whales earliest ancestors lived a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Around 45 million years ago you start to see species that resemble today’s modern whales. By 40 million years ago, whales were living a full aquatic lifestyle.
Pilot whales are not actual true “whales,” but similar to Orcas, are in the Delphinidae (Dolphin) family. This also includes the Melon-Headed Whale, Pygmy Killer Whale, False Killer Whale, and of course Orcas. With pilot whales there are two distinct species:
- Short-Finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
- Long-Finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas)
The Short-Finned Pilot Whales live in warmer waters around the equatorial regions. Whereas, Long-Finned Pilot Whales live in cooler waters in the northern and southern oceans.
Pilot Whale Facts
What is the most fascinating fact about these whales is just how complex and intelligent they are. It is now suggested that whales have culture! Many species, to include Pilot Whales, have been observed to have complex social structures and they have been observed to be teaching and mentoring younger members of their pods. In the podcast, Angie goes through detail about Pilot Whales and even discusses the Grandmother hypothesis, where aged female Pilot Whales stop breeding so they can help and support younger mothers. Pods of Pilot Whales usually consists of mothers, adolescents, babies and grandmothers.
Some other facts about Pilot Whales is, they can live up to 60 years in the wild. Like other toothed whales, they use echolocation to hunt squid and fish. They can dive up to 2000 feet (600 meters) but most of their dives are much shallower and they go up to 200 feet (60 meters). Pilot Whales can sometimes be preyed upon by Orcas and possibly large sharks. The most harrowing facts about Pilot Whales are, they are hunted and killed by the people of the Faroe Islands. Around 800 are slaughtered each and every year.
We are not shy to say, that the Faroe Islands whale hunt is immoral and wrong. For hundreds of years, people of the Faroe Islands hunted whales to survive. Today, that is no longer the case. The Faroe Islands no longer needs whale meat to supplement their diets as they farm sheep, cattle, chickens, and other livestock to meet their needs. In fact, less than half the population of the Faroe Islands even eats whale meat and blubber. Further, the meat is tainted with mercury and other pollutants that it is only safe to eat once per month. There is strong evidence the people do not even eat all the whale meat and blubber. Furthermore, from the start of the whale hunt up until the point that the whales are brutally killed on the beaches of the Faroe Islands, the hunt is completely inhumane. The Pilot Whales suffer immeasurably and this practice needs to end. Defending themselves, those supporting these hunts say it is tradition and they will not stop.
Pilot Whale Conservation
Pilot Whales are not considered endangered. Long-Finned Pilot Whales are estimated to be around 1,000,000. Short-Finned Pilot Whales are estimated to be only around 200,000 whales.