Pilot Whale Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Pilot whales are big, friendly mammals that live in groups all over the world. Pilot whales are smart and easy to train, but they can also get stranded on land, a potentially tragic event that you'll learn about in this lesson.

Pilot Whales

If you had to pick up a dangerous bomb from the bottom of the ocean, much deeper than people can swim, how would you do it? The U.S. Navy had exactly that problem in the 1960s, and their answer was...whales. Naval researchers trained a pilot whale named Morgan to find bombs, just like you might train a dog to fetch a ball or a Frisbee. Because whales naturally live in deep water, Morgan was able to dive much deeper than a person and find bombs on the ocean floor.

Pilot whales underwater
Pilot whales underwater

The researchers were successful because pilot whales, like Morgan, are very smart and easy to train. In this lesson, you'll learn all about pilot whales and how they live.

Size and Appearance

Pilot whales are big and heavy. Males can be up to 20 feet long and weigh as much as 3 tons - that's a little bit longer than an average pickup truck and about as heavy as the truck when it's loaded up. Females can be up to 16 feet long, only a little shorter than the truck. Females weigh up to 1 1/2 tons, about half the weight of a loaded pickup truck.

Pilot whales are dark gray, with one fin sticking up from their back and two flippers sticking out from their sides. They also have a very distinctive bulging forehead area - a pilot whale's forehead actually sticks out further than its mouth.

Types of Pilot Whales

There are two different types of pilot whales. Short-finned pilot whales like warm water and tend to live around the equator. Long-finned pilot whales like colder water and live at the North Pole and the South Pole.

How Pilot Whales Live

Pilot whales are very friendly and like to live in groups of up to 100 whales - in fact, that's how they got their name. When pilot whales were first discovered, scientists thought that one whale in the group was the ''pilot'' and told the other whales where to go.

Pilot whales swimming near a ship
Pilot whales

After they're born, female pilot whales take 6-7 years to grow up into adults; males take longer, about 12 years. Females can live up to 60 years, but males only live 35-45 years.

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