The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission


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Long-finned Pilot Whale


761px LF Pilot Whales Goban Spur Wikipedia Iceland

Long-finned pilot whales in the Goban Spur, offshore Ireland. Photo: Wikimedia

The long-finned pilot whale is a medium-sized toothed whale that is found in the North Atlantic and in mid-latitudes throughout the northern and southern hemisphere. Males are larger than females, reaching a length of 6.3 m and and a weight of 2.5 tonnes. They are dark brown to black in colour, with a light anchor-shaped pattern on the belly. The pilot whale is a social species, found in groups of 10’s to 100's of animals.

pilot whales all NASS survey

Summer distribution of long-finned pilot whales in the North Atlantic, showing sightings (black) and effort (red) from all North Atlantic Sightings surveys, 1987 - 2007, as well as 2007 CODA and SNESSA surveys.


In the subpolar and temperate waters of NAMMCO area, ranging from Disco in western Greenland, Iceland and up to the southern portion of Svalbard waters in summer months to northwestern Africa in the winter.

Most common in the Irminger sea and in the area between Iceland and Scotland and Ireland during summer.

Relation to Humans

Average annual catches since 2000: 

- Faroe Islands: 671 (incl. 2013)

- Greenland: 197 (to 2012)


From the largest survey in 1989: over 750,000 in the central and north-eastern North Atlantic (Buckland et al. 1993).

From surveys in 1989, 1995 and 2007: over 100.000 in the eastern index area containing the Faroe islands.


The removals by drive hunting at the Faroes have been and are considered sustainable, although the last assessment dates from 1997 (NAMMCO 1998c). 

Sustaining an annual catch of 678 animals (corresponding to the average annual Faroese catch 1997-2011) requires that the population contributing to the catch counts 50,000 - 80,000 pilot whales  (NAMMCO 2013).


North Atlantic management areas: exploitation and assessment status

 Pilot assessment table