Scientific Name: Globicephala melas Size: up to 20’ (males are larger) Weight: approx 2.5 tons Status: Unknown
Pilot Whales are more of a rare sighting here. Your best chance of seeing them would be in late summer to fall, more so in the fall based on my own personal experience. These whales also tend to be seen more so on Jeffrey’s Ledge than on Stellwagen Bank, but really you just never know when you’re going to see them or where. It’s all a matter of being in the right place at the right time as they’re passing through the area.
These whales, like other toothed whales, travel in family groups known as pods. The males are significantly larger than females so for this species it’s somewhat easier to tell their genders. Calves are born a light grey color and as they get older they darken up to be the same dark grey/black coloration as the adults. They have a light pattern on their throat and belly area which looks kind of like an anchor although my first thought when I saw it for the first time was a tuxedo! Their heads are large and rounded and earned them the nickname of “pothead” whales.
Pilot Whales, in my experience, are a lot of fun to watch. They’re very similar to dolphins in that they tend to be active at the surface by breaching, tail slapping, rolling, backstroking, and even spyhopping. This is one species that I wish we could see on a more frequent basis. The 2018 season is my 18th season on the water and I’ve only seen them 4 or 5 times. Ironically, when we go whale watching out on Jeffrey’s Ledge we tend to see more baleen whales, but the trip of my last Pilot Whale sighting was only toothed whales (sperm whales, dolphins, and pilot whales)!
Unfortunately, there are two rather sad “claims to fame” that this species holds. One is that they’re known for mass stranding. There are several theories as to why they mass strand, but they are just theories. Of those theories there’s the possibility of a sick or injured individual beaching itself only to have the rest of the pod follow along. Another theory is that maybe they get confused or disoriented due to tide changes in unfamiliar areas. There’s some speculation that perhaps they’ve stranded while either chasing prey or avoiding predators themselves. Sonar and blasting is known to cause issues with cetaceans and fish all around the world as well so that’s a strong possibility in mass stranding as well.
The second claim to fame is that even though the meat of these whales is not fit for human consumption due to high mercury levels, this species is still hunted in large scale in the Faroe Islands. This routine hunt occurs in the summer and is known as the Grind which is as nasty as it sounds. I won’t go into detail here about that, but if you’re curious and would like to learn more about this hunt and how you can help to stop it, I urge you to please do your own research.
"We owe it to our children to be better stewards of the environment. The alternative? - a world without whales. It's too terrible to imagine." ~ Pierce Brosnan