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I spy a pilot whale

November 27, 2019

This spy-hopping adult female short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) was photographed offshore of Hawai‘i Island while checking out the Cascadia Research Collective field team during one of their field projects in the Hawaiian Islands studying the ecology and behavior of toothed whales. Short-finned pilot whales in Hawai‘i belong to a sub-group—potentially a new subspecies—called the Naisa. This subspecies extends throughout the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and into the western and central Pacific Ocean. Its sister subspecies, called the Shiho short-finned pilot whale, is found in the eastern Pacific Ocean, with a small remnant population in northern Japan. Short-finned pilot whales are deep-diving predators of squid and fish, swimming down to 800 meters (over 2,600 feet) to catch their prey. Although they thrive along the continental slope, they are found in habitats that extend from nearshore to deep open ocean. They are also highly social, and are most often found in family groups of 15-30 animals. Different family groups—even those that share the same habitat—have different dialects, which may help them identify their specific group and maintain their social organization. Because short-finned pilot whales live nearshore, and eat food that humans also eat, they face many threats from people, including fisheries bycatch, entanglement, ocean noise, and contaminants. They are also hunted in some regions, particularly Japan and the Lesser Antilles. Research conducted by WHOI scientists uses both acoustics and genetics, combined with detailed, long-term observational studies, to understand the effects of social behavior on ecology and evolution within the species. Read more about pilot whales: www.whoi.edu/press-room/news-release/individual-groups-of-pilot-whales-have-their-own-dialects (Photo: Amy Van Cise, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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