Globicephala melas 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Delphinidae

Scientific Name: Globicephala melas
Species Authority: (Traill, 1809)
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Long-finned Pilot Whale
French globicéphale noir, dauphin pilote, Globicéphale Commun
Spanish Calderón Negro, calderón común, ballena piloto, Caldrón Negro
Globicephala edwardii (Smith, 1834)
Globicephala leucosagmaphora Raynor, 1939
Globicephala melaena (Traill, 1809)
Taxonomic Notes: The Long-finned Pilot Whale is treated as one species even though there is evidence that it may be a complex of two or more species. If they are so designated, the Red List assessment may change.

Three subspecies are recognized in some classifications: G. m. melas in the North Atlantic, G. m. edwardii in the southern hemisphere, and an un-named subspecies in Japanese waters (extinct since 8th-12th century AD; Rice 1998)

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Data Deficient ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L.
Reviewer(s): Hammond, P.S. & Perrin, W.F. (Cetacean Red List Authority)
Long-finned pilot whales are treated as one species even though there is evidence that they may comprise a complex of two or more species. If it is so designated, the classification may change. If taxonomic designations change, then it is suspected that some new species may warrant listing under higher categories of risk. Because additional data should resolve this taxonomic uncertainty, the current species is listed as Data Deficient. Threats that could cause widespread declines include high levels of anthropogenic sound, especially military sonar and seismic surveys, and bycatch. Primary threats that could cause widespread declines include entanglement in fisheries and competition with squid fisheries The combination of possible declines driven by these factors is believed sufficient that a 30% global reduction over three generations (72 years; Taylor et al. 2007) cannot be ruled out (criterion A).
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Long-finned pilot whales occur in temperate and subpolar zones (Olson and Reilly 2002). They are found in oceanic waters and some coastal waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, including the Mediterranean Sea and North Sea. In the North Atlantic, the species occurs in deep offshore waters, including those inside the western Mediterranean Sea (where it is thought to be the only species of pilot whale found), North Sea, and Gulf of St. Lawrence (Abend and Smith 1999). Long-finned pilot whales were previously found in the western North Pacific as well but appear to be absent there today. The circum-Antarctic subpopulation(s) in the Southern Hemisphere occur as far south as the Antarctic Convergence, sometimes to 68°S. They are apparently isolated from those of the Northern Hemisphere (Bernard and Reilly 1999).

The map shows where the species may occur based on oceanography. The species has not been recorded for all the states within the hypothetical range as shown on the map. States for which confirmed records of the species exist are included in the list of native range states. States within the hypothetical range but for which no confirmed records exist are included in the Presence Uncertain list.
Countries occurrence:
Algeria; Argentina; Australia; Belgium; Bouvet Island; Brazil; Canada; Chile; Denmark; Falkland Islands (Malvinas); Faroe Islands; France; French Southern Territories (Crozet Is.); Germany; Gibraltar; Greenland; Heard Island and McDonald Islands; Iceland; Ireland; Isle of Man; Italy; Libya; Malta; Mauritania; Morocco; Namibia; Netherlands; New Zealand (Antipodean Is., Chatham Is., North Is., South Is.); Norway; Peru; Portugal (Azores, Madeira); Saint Pierre and Miquelon; South Africa (Marion-Prince Edward Is., Western Cape); South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; Spain; Sweden; Tunisia; United Kingdom; United States (North Carolina); Uruguay; Western Sahara
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – southwest; Atlantic – southeast; Atlantic – western central; Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – Antarctic; Atlantic – northeast; Atlantic – northwest; Indian Ocean – eastern; Indian Ocean – western; Indian Ocean – Antarctic; Mediterranean and Black Sea; Pacific – southwest; Pacific – southeast
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Sighting surveys in 1987 and 1989 generated an abundance estimate of more than 750,000 pilot whales in the central and northeastern North Atlantic (Buckland et al. 1993). There are estimated to be about 200,000 long-finned pilot whales in summer south of the Antarctic Convergence in the Southern Hemisphere and approximately 31,000 (CV = 0.27) in the western North Atlantic (Waring et al. 2006), but some of these are short-finned pilot whales. There is no information on global trends in abundance. There is little information on subpopulations within the species (Donovan et al. 1993).
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Long-finned pilot whales tend to follow their prey (squid and mackerel) inshore and into continental shelf waters during the summer and autumn (Reeves et al. 2003). In the western North Atlantic, they occur in high densities over the continental slope in winter and spring months. In summer and autumn months, they move off the shelf.

The typical temperature range for the species is 0 - 25°C (Martin 1994). The Alboran Sea is one of the most important areas for this species in the Mediterranean (Cañadas and Sagarminaga 2000); in this area, the average depth of encounters was about 850 m (ranging from 300 to 1,800 m), reflecting the distribution of their preferred diet, pelagic cephalopods. Around the Faroe Islands, tracking studies show a preference for waters over the border of the continental shelf (Bloch et al. 2003).

Off the coast of Chile, Aguayo et al. (1998) mainly sighted G. melas near the edge of the continental shelf. Goodall and Macnie (1998) reported on sightings in the south-eastern South Pacific, which were clustered from 30-35°S, 72- 78°W, at a maximum of about 160 nm from shore. In the southwestern South Atlantic, sightings were clustered in two areas, 34- 46°S and off Tierra del Fuego, 52-56°S, where schools were found up to 1,000 n. mi. from shore. Fifteen sightings were from waters south of the Antarctic Convergence, from December to March. Only one sighting was made south of 44°S in winter, probably due to lack of effort in southern seas during the colder months.

Primarily squid eaters, long-finned pilot whales will also take small medium-sized fish, such as mackerel, when available (Gannon et al. 1997). Other fish species taken include cod, turbot, herring hake, and dogfish. They will sometimes also ingest shrim.

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: The harvesting of this species for food in the Faroes and Greenland is probably sustainable.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The only current fishery for long-finned pilot whales is undertaken in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Although this fishery has been actively pursued since the 9th century, catch levels have apparently not caused stock depletion, such as occurred off Newfoundland. Catch statistics exist from the Faroes since 1584, unbroken from 1709 to today, showing an annual average catch of 850 pilot whales (range: 0 - 4,480) with a cyclic variation according to the North-Atlantic climatic variations (Bloch and Larstein 1995). The IWC, ICES and NAMMCO have concluded, that with an estimated subpopulation size of 778 000 (CV=0.295) in the eastern North Atlantic and approximately 100 000 around the Faroes (Buckland et al. 1993; NAMMCO 1997) the Faroese catch is probably sustainable. In Greenland, catches are relatively small.

Incidental catches are reported from Newfoundland, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast of France. In British waters, long-finned pilot whales are accidentally caught in gillnets, purse seines and in trawl fisheries. Very few are reported taken incidentally in fisheries in the Southern Hemisphere (Reyes 1991). However, according to Bernard and Reilly (1999), there are probably more pilot whales taken incidentally than are presently documented. On the east coast of the USA, the foreign Atlantic mackerel fishery was responsible for the take of 141 pilot whales in 1988. This fishery was suspended in early May of that year as a direct result of this anomalously high take. A 1990 workshop to review mortality of cetaceans in passive nets and traps documented an annual kill of 50-100 G. melas off the Atlantic coast of France. Long-finned pilot whales are also known to be taken incidentally in trawl and gillnet fisheries in the western North Atlantic, and in swordfish driftnets in the Mediterranean (Olson and Reilly 2002).

Zerbini and Kotas (1998) reported on cetacean-fishery interactions off southern Brazil. The pelagic driftnet fishery is focused on sharks (families Sphyrnidae and Carcharinidae) and incidentally caught at least 15 Globicephala melas in 1995 and 1997. The authors conclude that the driftnet fishery may be an important cause of cetacean mortality in that region.

Although there is considerable controversy regarding the absolute level of declines, there is good evidence of large-scale reductions in many predatory fish populations (e.g., Baum et al. 2003, 2005; Sibert et al. 2006; Polacheck 2006) and over-fishing and collapse of several important “prey” fish stocks world-wide (e.g., Jackson et al. 2001). The effects of such fish population reductions and subsequent ecosystem changes on world-wide populations of long-finned pilot whales are unknown but could result in population declines. Commercial fisheries for squids are widespread in the western North Atlantic. Target species for these fisheries are squids eaten by pilot whales, again raising the possibility of prey depletion.

This species, like beaked whales, is likely to be vulnerable to loud anthropogenic sounds, such as those generated by navy sonar and seismic exploration (Cox et al. 2006).

Predicted impacts of global climate change on the marine environment may affect long-finned pilot whales, and may induce changes in the species’ range, abundance and/or migration patterns (Learmonth et al. 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The species is listed on CITES Appendix II.

The North and Baltic Sea subpopulations have been listed in Appendix II of CMS. However, recent data on movements in the northwest and northeast Atlantic suggest that these subpopulations should also be included in Appendix II of CMS. Attention should also be paid to the western North Atlantic subpopulation(s), in particular those migrating between United States and Canadian waters, formerly depleted by over-hunting and now facing increasing incidental mortality in trawl fisheries (Reyes 1991).

Classifications [top]

10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.1. Marine Oceanic - Epipelagic (0-200m)
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.2. Marine Oceanic - Mesopelagic (200-1000m)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.3. Marine Oceanic - Bathypelagic (1000-4000m)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
  Harvest management plan:Yes
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.1. Habitat shifting & alteration
♦ timing:Future    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.1. Intentional use: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

9. Pollution -> 9.6. Excess energy -> 9.6.3. Noise pollution
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

♦  Food - human
 National : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

Abend, A. G. and Smith, T. D. 1999. Review of Distribution of the Long-Finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala melas) in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE. U.S. Department of Commerce.

Aguayo, A., Bernal, R., Olavarria, C., Vallejos, V. and Hucke, R. 1998. Observaciones de cetaceos realizados entre valparaiso e isla de Pascua, Chile, durante los inviernos de 1993, 1994, 1995. Revista de Biologia Marina y Oceanografia 33: 101-123.

Balcomb, K. C. and Claridge, D. E. 2001. A mass stranding of cetaceans caused by naval sonar in the Bahamas. Bahamas Journal of Science 8(2): 2-12.

Baum, J. K., Myers, R. A., Kehler, D. G., Word, B., Harley, S. J. and Doherty, P. A. 2003. Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the Northwest Atlantic. Science 299: 389-392.

Bernard, H. J. and Reilly, S. B. 1999. Pilot whales Globicephala Lesson, 1828. In: S. H. Ridgway and R. Harrison (eds), Handbook of marine mammals, Vol. 6: The second book of dolphins and the porpoises, pp. 245-279. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, USA.

Bloch, D. and Larstein, L. 1995. Modeling the school structure of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands, 1832-1994. In: A. S. Blix, L. Wallace and U. Ultang (eds), Whales, Seals, Fish and Man, pp. 499-508. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Bloch, D., Heide-Jorgensen, M. P., Steffansson, E., Mikkelsen, B., Ofstad, L. H., Dietz, R. and Andersen, L. W. 2003. Short-term movements of long-finned pilot whales Globicephala melas around the Faroe Islands. Wildlife Biology 9: 47-58.

Buckland, S. T., Bloch, D., Cattanach, K. L., Gunnlaugsson, T., Hoydal, K., Lens, S. and Sigurjonsson, J. 1993. Distribution and abundance of long-finned pilot whales in the North Atlantic, estimated from NASS-87 and NASS-89 data. Reports of the International Whaling Commission Special Issue 14: 33-49.

Cañadas, A. and Sagarminaga, R. 2000. The northeastern Alboran Sea, an important breeding and feeding ground for the long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas) in the Mediterranean Sea. Marine Mammal Science 16(3): 513-529.

Donovan, G. P., Lockyer, C.H. and Martin, A. R. 1993. Biology of Northern Hemisphere pilot whales. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 14: 479 pp.

Fernández, A., Edwards, J. F., Rodriguez, F., Espinosa, A., De Los Monteros, Herraez, P., Castro, P., Jaber, J. R., Martin, V. and Arebelo, M. 2005. "Gas and fat embolic syndrome" involving a mass stranding of beaked whales (family Ziphiidae) exposed to anthropogenic sonar signals. Veterinary Pathology 42: 446-457.

Frantzis, A. 1998. Does acoustic testing strand whales? Nature 392(5): 29.

Gannon, D. P., Read, A. J., Craddock, J. E., Fristrup, K. M. and Nicolas, J. R. 1997. Feeding ecology of long-finned pilot whales Globicephala melas in the western North Atlantic. Marine Ecology Progress Series 148: 1-10.

Goodall, R. N. P. and Macnie, S. V. 1998. Sightings of pilot whales off South America south of 30°S: a review of data to 1988. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 48: 565-579.

Hohn, A. A., Rotstein, D. S., Harms, C. A. and Southall, B. L. 2006. Multispecies mass stranding of pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), and dwarf sperm whales (Kogia sima) in North Carolina on 15-16 January 2005. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS SEFSC 537: 222.

Jackson, J. B. C., Kirby, M. X., Berger, W. H., Bjorndal, K. A., Botsford, L. W., Bourque, B. J., Bradbury, R. H., Cooke, R., Erlandson, J., Estes, J. A., Hughes, T. P., Kidwell, S., Lange, C. B., Lenihan, H. S., Pandolfi, J. M., Peterson, C. H., Steneck, R. S., Tegner, M. J. and Warner, R. R. 2001. Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293: 629-637.

Jepson, P. D., Arebelo, M., Deaville, R., Patterson, I. A. P., Castro, P., Baker, J. R., Degollada, E., Ross, H. M., Herraez, P., Pocknell, A. M., Rodriguez, F., Howie, F. E., Espinosa, A., Reid, R. J., Jaber, J. R., Martin, V., Cunningham, A. A. and Fernandez, A. 2003. Gas-bubble lesions in stranded cetaceans. Nature 425: 575-576.

Learmonth, J.A., Macleod, C.D., Santos, M.B., Pierce, G.J., Crick, H.Q.P. and Robinson, R.A. 2006. Potential effects of climate change on marine mammals. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 44: 431-464.

Martin, A. R. 1994. Globicephala melas - langflossen-Grindwal. In: J. Niethammer and F. Krapp (eds), Handbuch de Säugetiere Europas, pp. 407-421. Aula-Verlag, Weibaden, Germany.

North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission. 1997. Report of the scientific committee working group on abundance estimation. Annual Report of the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission. North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission, Tromsø, Norway.

North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission. 2000. Report of the management committee. Annual Report of the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission. North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission, Tromsø, Norway.

Olson, P. A. and Reilly, S. B. 2002. Pilot whales Globicephala melas and G. macrorhynchus. In: W. F. Perrin, B. Wursig and J. G. M. Thewissen (eds), Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, pp. 898-903. Academic Press.

Polacheck, T. 2006. Tuna longline catch rates in the Indian Ocean: did industrial fishing result in a 90% rapid decline in the abundance of large predatory species? Marine Policy 30: 470-482.

Reeves, R. R., Smith, B. D., Crespo, E. A. and Notarbartolo di Sciara, G. 2003. Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises: 2002-2010 Conservation Action Plan for the World's Cetaceans. IUCN/SSC Cetacean Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Reyes, J. C. 1991. The conservation of small cetaceans: a review.

Rice, D.W. 1998. Marine Mammals of the World: Systematics and Distribution. Society for Marine Mammalogy, Lawrence, Kansas.

Sibert, J., Hampton, J., Kleiber, P. and Maunder, M. 2006. Biomass, size, and trophic status of top predators in the Pacific Ocean. Science 314: 1773-1776.

Simmonds, M. P. and Lopez-Jurado, L. F. 1991. Whales and the military. Nature 351: 448.

Southall, B. L., Braun, R., Gulland, F. M. D., Heard, A. D., Baird, R. W., Wilkin, S. and Rowles, T. K. 2006. Hawaiian melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra) mass stranding event of July 3-4, 2004. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-OPR 31: 73 pp.

Taylor, B. L., Chivers, S. J., Larese, J. and Perrin, W. F. 2007. Generation length and percent mature estimates for IUCN assessments of Cetaceans. Southwest Fisheries Science Center.

US Department of Commerce and US Navy. 2001. Joint interim report Bahamas marine mammal stranding event of 14-16 March 2000. US Department of Commerce and US Navy.

Waring, G. T., Josephson, E., Fairfield, C. P. and Maze-Foley, K. (eds). 2006. U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico marine mammal stock assessments - 2005. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE, pp. 346 pp..

Zerbini, A. N. and Kotas, J. E. 1998. A note on cetacean bycatch in pelagic driftnetting off southern Brazil. Reports of the International Whaling Commission 48: 519-524.

Citation: Taylor, B.L., Baird, R., Barlow, J., Dawson, S.M., Ford, J., Mead, J.G., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Wade, P. & Pitman, R.L. 2008. Globicephala melas. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T9250A12975001. . Downloaded on 22 January 2017.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided