Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



The long-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas is a toothed whale and can be recognised as such by the single blowhole and the presence of teeth (rather than baleen). It is a member of the dolphin family with a characteristic prominent median notch in the flukes, a smooth crease-less throat and sharply pointed teeth. The long-finned pilot whale reaches up to 6.7 m in length. It has long and slender flippers and small tail flukes. The dorsal fin is low and broad-based and located on the forward third of the back. The head is conspicuously bulbous. It is very dark grey to black in colour above and on the sides but white underneath.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Found around the coasts of Britain and Ireland except south-east England and much of western Ireland.

Global distribution



The long-finned pilot whale is an offshore species but may also be found inshore. Although it may dive down to 600 m it usually descends up to 60 m in depth.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Up to 6.7 m in length.
  • Low, broad-based and blunt-tipped dorsal fin located on the forward third of the back.
  • Dorsally and laterally dark grey to black in colour with light grey saddle behind the dorsal fin.
  • Long slender flippers up to a quarter of the total body length.
  • Round globular head without a beak.
  • Upsloping mouthline.

Additional information

Long-finned pilot whales are usually found in large groups of up to 1000 individuals. The blow may be up to 1 m tall. Dives may last up to 10 minutes long (Kinze, 2002).


  1. Bruyns, W.F.J.M., 1971. Field guide of whales and dolphins. Amsterdam: Publishing Company Tors.

  2. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  3. Jefferson, T.A., Leatherwood, S. & Webber, M.A., 1994. FAO species identification guide. Marine mammals of the world. Rome: United Nations Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

  4. Kinze, C. C., 2002. Photographic Guide to the Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  5. Reid. J.B., Evans. P.G.H., Northridge. S.P. (ed.), 2003. Atlas of Cetacean Distribution in North-west European Waters. Peterborough: Joint Nature Conservation Committee.


  1. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, 2018. Visual sightings data set 2003-2017. Occurrence dataset: https://hwdt.org/ accessed via NBNAtlas.org on 2018-09-27.

  2. Isle of Wight Local Records Centre, 2017. Isle of Wight Notable Species. Occurrence dataset: https://doi.org/10.15468/sm4ety accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-09-27.

  3. Merseyside BioBank., 2017. Merseyside BioBank (verified). Occurrence dataset: https://doi.org/10.15468/ar0p6s accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-10-01.

  4. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from: https://www.nbnatlas.org.

  5. Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service, 2017. NBIS Records to December 2016. Occurrence dataset: https://doi.org/10.15468/jca5lo accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-10-01.

  6. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. www.iobis.org. Accessed: 2024-05-28

  7. Outer Hebrides Biological Recording, 2018. Vertebrates (except birds, INNS and restricted records), Outer Hebrides. Occurrence dataset: https://doi.org/10.15468/dax3tf accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-10-01.

  8. South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre, 2018. SEWBReC Mammals (South East Wales). Occurrence dataset: https://doi.org/10.15468/atlxpp accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-10-02.

  9. The Mammal Society., 2017. National Mammal Atlas Project, online recording. Occurrence dataset: https://doi.org/10.15468/i2eosa accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-10-02.

  10. Whale and Dolphin Conservation, 2018. WDC Shorewatch Sightings. Occurrence dataset: https://doi.org/10.15468/9vuieb accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-10-02.


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Globicephala melas Long-finned pilot whale. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 28-05-2024]. Available from: https://marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/113

Last Updated: 02/06/2008