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Foto Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) are distributed in all oceans ( The IUCN Red List of threatened species classifies this species as data deficient. Recent research results have shown surprising life patterns for this relatively unknown cetacean species. First conclusions indicate that they form stable matrilineal kinship groups ( and supposingly use call dialects ( During 20 minute long and more than 1,000m deep dives ( they may search and hunt for giant squids ( with a -for an aquatic mammal- unique hunting strategy . In the focus of hundreds of thousands of whale watchers per year (, short-finned pilot whales represent an exciting dolphin species. wants to provide a vivid picture of this species and uses original acoustic ( and visual ( research recordings. Furthermore, provides scientific guidance on several biological life aspects of this species obtained from own research and from reports of the scientific community.


Recent studies on short-finned pilot whales from the scientific community (updated: 17.10.15)
(14.07.2015) Acoustics ( more…)
Source: Baumann-Pickering et al (2015) False killer whale and short-finned pilot whale acoustic identification. Endangered Species Research 28: 97–108


Background informations on ( does not conduct research solely on pilot whales. In collaboration with other researchers or in the context of distinctive research topics, sometimes other marine mammal species are in the focus of study. Recently, studies on grey seals (, Amazon botos ( and killer whales ( were conducted.


Click to see sequences
of human-pilot whale research
encounters (.mov file with 20 MB).

In-water encounters with marine mammals

Foto Short-finned pilot whales are one of the main target species of the global whale watching industry. The hotspot is the southwest coast of Tenerife, Canary Islands. Pilot whales are encountered by thousands of whale watchers mostly in the context of boat-based excursions ( During encounters with human swimmers they were reported to show threatening as well as affiliative behaviors ( Own research ( revealed 11 different interactive behaviors initiated by free-ranging pilot whales and directed to human swimmers (


In a collaborative effort, researchers from Brazil and Germany catalogued and compared self-initiated behaviors of food-provisioned Amazon botos and unhabituated short-finned pilot whales which they address towards human feeders and swimmers (…)

Foto As a segment of the global whale watching market, pinnipeds are regularly encountered by tourists at terrestrial sites and in the water. Seals self-initiate a variety of interactive behaviors during in-water encounters with human swimmers. These are ranging from simple curious approaches to direct body contacts. A own current study examines interactive behaviors displayed by grey seals during encounters with human swimmers off Helgoland (…)

Foto Next to short-finned pilot whales more than 20 free-ranging whale and dolphin species have been encountered by human swimmers, divers and waders in open water environments.

Follow the swimBLOG (



Click to see the complete video library

Click to see the complete sound library

Click to see the complete photo library


Click to see two pilot whales encircling two human swimmers (.mov file with 6.5 MB)

Click to hear click trains directed towards a human swimmer (.mp3 file with 0.25 MB)

Short-finned pilot whale acoustic behavior


Like most cetacean species, short-finned pilot whales use a diverse acoustic signal repertoire in order to communicate with conspecifics (, to navigate, to explore and to search for prey ( During encounters with human swimmers, pilot whales emit echolocation clicks and direct them to their novel and unusual counterparts ( Their sophisticated acoustic communication system is vulnerable to underwater noise disturbance. Especially in the context of boat-based whale watching, acoustic signals can be potentially masked by engine and propeller noise (

Foto Click to see and mainly hear a group of short-finned pilot whales communicating (.mov file with 5.9 MB). The whales emit a variety of sounds such as clicks, whistles, grunts and calls.

Click to hear a long sequence of call exchanges recorded at night
(.mp3 file with 8.3 MB)

Vessel noise and ship strikes


Short-finned pilot whales often live in coastal waters ( and are confronted with a variety of anthropogenic impacts. In archipelagos such as the Canary or Hawaiian Islands they have to cope with maritime traffic and particularly with fast and high-speed ferries. Scars and dorsal injuries reveal that pilot whales are victims of ship strikes and it is likely that their acoustic communication will be somehow affected by underwater noise ( It still remains an open question why whales do not avoid a collision by moving out of an approaching ship's path ( See also the current field study (

Pilot whale social structure

Foto Short-finned pilot whales have distinctive markings and can be individually photo-identified ( Researchers have globally used this technique to study the pilot whale social structure by analysing indivual association patterns ( They found that short-finned pilot whales form stable social groupings, and further evidence ( suggests that they live in matrilinear kinship groups. Within these they show a variety of acoustic ( and non-acoustic ( communication behaviors. Presumably they use call dialects ( for the behavioral synchronization among group members.

Click to see a large group meeting underwater (.mov file with 6.3 MB).

Pilot whale behavior


As air-breathing marine mammals, short-finned pilot whales have to regularly sojourn at the water surface ( Nevertheless, most of their time the whales spent beneath the surface (


The combination of surface and underwater observations is important to explore the function of a distinctive behavior. From the surface it seems that e.g. a tailslap is a solely percussive behavior -a behavior with an acoustic signal function ( From underwater an observer can get a different impression (

Foto Click to hear the acoustics of several tailslaps
above the water surface (.mov file with 3.1 MB)

More than ...


While searching for pilot whales, you often meet other marine mammal species as well. During research cruises or while simply outlooking from shores, you sometimes have the opportunity to be in the right time at the right place. …Here… are my examples.

Foto (04.01.2013) Helgoland, North Sea

On a cold January afternoon a single harbor porpoise stranded on the beach of the island of Helgoland. The individual seemed to be in a healthy state and it was quite agile while floating somehow helpless. With the support of a local ranger and by using a heavy wheel loader, the animal was brought to the port where it was 'unloaded' in deeper waters. In response, the animal breached twice and went offshore.



Swim encounters with wild
marine mammals. Follow the

Recent updates (05.10.15)


(24.11.15) CMT publication


Coastal Marine Tourism conference
contribution on behaviors of killer
whales during swim encounters with
humans (

(05.10.15) New study

Together with Chantal Pagel as
the principal investigator and
Dr Michael Lόck, we currently
co-author a paper on interactive
behaviours of northern Norway
killer whales addressed towards
human swimmers (

(09.09.14) New field study

An own current study examines
interactive behaviors displayed
by grey seals during encounters
with human swimmers off
Helgoland (…)

(24.05.14) New book chapter


New book chapter on behaviors of botos
and short-finned pilot whales during close
encounters with humans (

(30.04.14) IWC publication


New IWC contribution on behaviors of botos
and short-finned pilot whales during close
encounters with humans ( See also
recent research (

(14.03.14) New videos

See some remarkable videos
on food-provisioning of
Amazon botos (…)

(11.12.13) Comparative study

In a collaborative effort, researchers
from Brazil and Germany currently catalogue
and compare self-initiated behaviors during
close encounters with Amazon botos and short-
finned pilot whales (…)

(26.10.13) New sounds

Unusual complex whistles
and grunts (

(23.07.13) New publication

Short note in Aquatic Mammals
on pilot whale call vocalizations

(28.06.13) New videos

New videos on swim-with-seals
in the swimBLOG (

(28.05.13) IWC contribution

Contribution to the annual meeting of
the International Whaling Commission
on ferry noise and vessel-whale collisions
( See also recent research

(01.05.13) Pilot whale documentary

"Isora, story of a pod of pilot whales"
by Rafael Herrero Massieu (

(08.04.13) Conference presentation

Presentation during the annual conference
of the ECS on ferry noise and vessel-whale
collisions ( See also recent research

(30.03.13) Sound library

New sounds in the sound
library (

(16.03.13) Social structure

Further short-finned pilot whale
hotspot off Madeira (

(10.03.13) New video

New video in the
swimBLOG (

(30.01.13) Photo library

New photos in the photo
library (

(01.12.12) TV broadcast

TV broadcast at France 3 produced
by 30 Millions d'Amis dealing with
vessel-whale collisions (

(01.12.12) New videos

New videos on human-cetacean
in-water encounters (

(29.11.12) Video library

All videos at higher resolutions
in the video library (

(30.10.12) Vessel noise

Sound examples of underwater
noise generated by fast and
high-speed ferries and a whale
watching vessel (

(30.10.12) Field study

Participation in study on
underwater noise impacts
of fast and high-speed
ferries (…)