8 surprising things about pilot whales


1. They are actually dolphins, so they have teeth and use echolocation. They communicate through squeaks, whistles and pulses and live in family groups for life.


2. The biggest males can reach lengths of eight metres (25 feet) and weights of over 2300 kilograms (5000 pounds).


3. When threatened by a predator, like an orca, pilot whales huddle close together and vocalise loudly rather than swim away. Scientists are still stumped as to why they react this way.


4. There are two species of pilot whale that only differ in the length of their pectoral fins. The short-finned pilot whale lives in warmer seas than its long-finned relative.


5. They live in deep water and stay close to the edge of the continental shelf, which is where the sea bed drops off to abyssal depths. There are upwellings on nutrient-rich water along the shelf edge which makes it a pilot whale hotspot.


6. They can live in pods of over 100 animals and are highly social, though a normal pod is made of around 10 whales.


7. Pilot whales put on a burst of speed in a ‘sprint’ when approaching prey to catch it off guard, much like a cheetah chasing a gazelle.


8. Pilot whales are known to ‘spy hop’. They rise out of the water for a few seconds to have a good look around, revealing their white heart-shaped colouration on their bellies.


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Image from www.flickr.com/photos/68397541@N00/2542214118