In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.
|EPBC Act Listing Status||Cetacean as Globicephala melas|
|Adopted/Made Recovery Plans|
|Policy Statements and Guidelines||
Industry Guidelines on the Interaction between offshore seismic exploration and whales (Department of the Environment and Water Resources (DEW), 2007h) [Admin Guideline].
Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005e) [Information Sheet].
|Scientific name||Globicephala melas |
|Other names||Globicephala melaena |
This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.
Scientific name: Globicephala melas (Traill 1809)
Common name: Long-finned Pilot Whale
Other names: Long-finned Blackfish
The Long-finned Pilot Whale was described by Traill in 1809 as Delphinus melas. The species was then known as Globicephala melaena. More recently, melas was reinstated, and the species name became Globicephala melas.
The Long-finned Pilot Whale occurs in two widely disjunct populations, one in the North Atlantic, the other in the Southern Hemisphere. The taxonomic relationships between these two forms is contentious. The southern form was described as a separate species, G. leucosagmaphora, by Rayner (1939), on the basis of some differences in colour pattern, and later re-named G. edwardi (Ellerman et al. 1953). However, Davies (1960) found that the distinguishing features of the southern animals were slight and inconsistent and reduced the two forms to subspecies of G. melas. The Southern Hemisphere form is now generally recognised as a subspecies, G. m. edwardi (Smith 1834) (Bannister et al. 1996; Klinowska 1991; Rice 1998; Ross 2006).
Little is known of the southern subspecies of the Long-finned Pilot Whale. This overview is based mainly on north-eastern Atlantic data, but includes some Australian observations.
The body in Long-finned Pilot Whales is robust, with a thick tail stock. The melon (forehead) is exaggerated and bulbous and the beak is barely discernible or non-existent (Culik 2003). The dorsal fin is wide, broad based, falcate (sickle-shaped) and set well forward on the body. The flippers are long, slender, and are also sickle-shaped. A faint grey saddle patch may be visible behind the dorsal fin in southern hemisphere Long-finned Pilot Whales (Jefferson et al. 1993). A pale eye blaze is visible in about one fifth of all adults, occurring most often in males (Bloch et al. 1993a). A grey mid-ventral line extends to the front into an anchor-shaped chest patch and widens posteriorily (towards the back) to a genital patch (Culik 2003). Sexual dimorphism exists, with longer flippers and larger flukes in males (Bloch et al. 1993a). The Long-finned Pilot Whale has a narrower skull than the short-finned species (eg. Short-finned Pilot Whale) (Olson & Reilly 2002).
The maximum length recorded for Long-finned Pilot Whales is 7.2 m in males (Tasmania) and 6.0 m in females (recorded off Tasmania) (Bannister et al. 1996; Donovan et al. 1993), while the maximum weight is approximately 3.0 tonnes in males and around 1.8 tonnes in females (Ross 2006). Maximum age recorded for male Long-finned Pilot Whales is 46 years, while females reach 59 years (Bannister et al. 1996).
The Long-finned Pilot Whale is highly gregarious, usually travelling in small, socially cohesive groups of around 1050 individuals, but are also encountered in large herds of several hundred and occasionally of over 1000 individuals (Bloch 1998; Zachariassen 1993). Based on photo-identification and genetic work, Long-finned Pilot Whales appear to live in relatively stable pods like those of Killer Whales, and not in the fluid groups characteristic of many smaller dolphins (Canadas & Sagarminaga 2000; Jefferson et al. 1993). They are social animals, with close matrilineal associations and groups composed of around 60% females (Amos 1991; Culik 2003). Long-finned Pilot Whale groups tend to bunch up when travelling and spread out when feeding (Ross 2006).
The Long-finned Pilot Whale is widely recorded in waters off southern Australia, and at Macquarie and Heard Island (Bannister et al. 1996; Ross 2006). It has not, however, been recorded off the Northern Territory. Eighteen sightings and 55 strandings have been recorded in Australian territories (see Table 1) (DEW 2007).
Table 1: Sightings and Strandings Records for the Long-finned Pilot Whale (DEW 2007).
|NSW||NT||QLD||SA||TAS||WA||VIC||Sub Antarctic Territory||Unknown state|
The current extent of occurrence for Long-finned Pilot Whales is estimated to be greater than 20 000 km² (based on the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone (200 nm and south of about 27°S and down to potentially 67°41'S) (Ross 2006). Increasing ocean temperatures predicted by climate change scenarios could potentially decrease the extent of occurrence, with warmer water extending southwards along both coasts.
The area of occupancy of Long-finned Pilot Whales cannot be calculated due to the paucity of records for Australia. Future expansion of high-seas pelagic fisheries may result in increased interactions with Long-finned Pilot Whales, including incidental catches and injury, potentially reducing local abundance leading to a decrease in area of occupancy.
Long-finned Pilot Whales are currently considered to occur in two locations, one in each hemisphere.
The Long-finned Pilot Whale appears to be distributed in two distinct locations: the southern subspecies (G. m. edwardii) occupies the Southern Hemisphere, with a circumglobal distribution (around the world) generally between 27°S and 62°S (Baker 1990; Bannister et al. 1996; Leatherwood & Reeves 1983; Ross 2006; Sylvestre 1993). The southern subspecies ranges north to latitudes around São Paulo in Brazil, the Cape Province in South Africa, Iles Crozet, Heard Island, the southern coast of Australia, Great Barrier Island in New Zealand, and Arica (19°S) in Chile. Southward it extends at least as far as the Antarctic Convergence 47°S to 62°S and has been recorded as far south as 67°41'S (Scott Island) and in the central Pacific sector at 68°S (Rice 1998).
The northern subspecies, possibly a separate species, occurs in the Northern Hemisphere (Ellerman et al. 1953; Rice 1998).
No global population estimate exists for the southern hemisphere Long-finned Pilot Whale, although about 200 000 individuals are estimated to occur in waters south of the Antarctic Convergence in January (Kasamatsu & Joyce 1995). The population size of the Northern Hemisphere subspecies has been estimated at 750 000 individuals in the central and north-eastern North Atlantic (Buckland et al. 1993).
While the southern subspecies has not been exploited on a significant scale (Reeves et al. 2003), the northern subspecies (G. melas melas) has been exploited for several years in the North Atlantic. The current exploitation levels, primarily occurring in drive hunts in the Faroe Islands, are considered to be sustainable (NAMMCO 2000).
Currently the Southern Hemisphere subspecies is considered circumglobal. While no current global threats to the Australian population of Long-finned Pilot Whales have be identified, threats operating in neighbouring countries and/or international waters may affect the Australian population.
Long-finned Pilot Whales are not well surveyed within Australian waters. Their distribution is primarily assumed from incidental sightings, plus beach-cast animals, for all areas. Albeit based on limited data, information gathered from these sources is believed to give a reliable distribution for this species (Peddemors & Harcourt 2006, pers. comm.).
No population estimates are available for Long-finned Pilot Whales in Australian waters. However, they are generally considered to occur in relatively high abundance (Reeves et al. 2003; Ross 2006).
Mass strandings of Long-finned Pilot Whales on Australian coasts have occurred on average once per year since 1970. All but three events have occurred between September and March, with 60% occurring from December to March (Ross 2006). This implies there may be extreme fluctuations in the numbers of Long-finned Pilot Whales within Australian territorial waters, possibly due to seasonal onshore movements (Bannister et al. 1996).
All cetaceans are protected within the Australian Whale Sanctuary under the EPBC Act. The Sanctuary includes all Commonwealth waters from the 3 nm state waters limit out to the boundary of the Exclusive Economic Zone (i.e. out to 200 nm, and further in some places). Long-finned Pilot Whales are also subject to International Whaling Commission regulations and protected within the Indian Ocean Sanctuary and Southern Ocean Sanctuary.
Long-finned Pilot Whales may be found near all the major land masses and in oceanic waters. Long-finned Pilot Whales inhabit temperate (1020°C) and subantarctic (1-8°C) deep oceanic waters and zones of higher productivity along the continental slope, apparently venturing into the shallower waters of the shelf (<200 m) in pursuit of favoured prey species (Lewinson et al. 2004; Ross 2006).
Long-finned Pilot Whales typically occupy waters in the temperature range of between 025°C (Martin, 1994). They are primarily recorded in offshore waters, but are occasionally found inshore (Reyes 1991). Little information exists for Southern Hemisphere Long-finned Pilot Whales, but off the coast of Chile they are mainly sighted in proximity of the coast, reflecting their preference for the edge of the continental shelf (Aguayo et al. 1998). Goodall and Macnie (1998) report on sightings of Long-finned Pilot Whales in the south-eastern South Pacific, which were clustered between 3035°S, 72 78°W, the furthest being about 160 nm from shore.
In the south-western South Atlantic, sightings of Long-finned Pilot Whales clustered in two areas, 3446°S and off Tierra del Fuego, 5256°S. Here, schools were found up to 1000 nm 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, but this deficiency was probably due to a lack of survey effort in southern seas during the colder months (Culik 2003).
Research conducted in the Northern Hemisphere indicates that, around the Faroe Islands, Long-finned Pilot Whales occur all year round with a peak abundance in July-September. New tracking studies show a preference over the border of the continental shelf (Bloch et al. 1993c; Bloch et al. 2003). An important area for Long-finned Pilot Whales in the Mediterranean appears to be the Alboran Sea, an oceanographic transition zone between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. Here Long-finned Pilot Whales occurred in depths ranging between 300 to 1800 m, mirroring the distribution of their preferred diet of pelagic cephalopods (Canadas & Sagarminaga 2000).
Various estimates for age and length at sexual maturity have been presented for Long-finned Pilot Whales. Males reach sexual maturity at between four and five metres at an average age of 17 years, while females reach sexual maturity when smaller and younger, at between three and four metres and five to 15 years (Bloch et al 1993b; Ross 2006). The maximum recorded age of Long-finned Pilot Whales is 46 years for males, and 59 years for females (Donovan et al. 1993).
There is possibly wide variation in mortality rates, but it appears that more females may survive to adulthood (Donovan et al. 1993). Long-finned Pilot Whales are prone to mass stranding, with the close relatedness within pods and social cohesion of the group exacerbating consequent mortality (Ross 2006). It is thought that mass strandings may represent a significant proportion of Long-finned Pilot Whale natural mortality, but this hypothesis is uncertain without information on population size (Ross 2006).
Disease may also be an important contributor to natural mortality. Large numbers (11404200) of nematode Stenurus globicephalae were found in ear canals, gutteral pouches and auditory sinuses of four large Long-finned Pilot Whale males from one mass stranding in Tasmania (Bannister et al. 1996). Other known pathogens include Vibrio alginolyticus from the anus, blowhole and skin (Mcmanus et al. 1984; Nicol 1987).
Data from the north-eastern Atlantic suggest that Long-finned Pilot Whale calves are born after a 12 month gestation period, at a length of 1.78 m and weigh between 74 and 79 kg. Australian data however, suggests that they can be substantially smaller. Calves measured off Victoria were born at 1.381.86 m in length and between 55 and 70 kg in weight (from single dead strandings: Bannister et al. 1996). Weaning occurs at between 23 and 27 months, with evidence of prolonged suckling to seven years in males and 12 years in females (Ross 2006). The calving interval in Long-finned Pilot Whales is three to four years, but increases with age, such that the average interval is 5.1 years (Donovan et al. 1993).
Records off Tasmania indicate that mating occurs in spring and summer and more than 85% of calves are subsequently born between September and March, although births may occur throughout the year (Bannister et al. 1996). No Long-finned Pilot Whale calving areas are known for Australian waters (Bannister et al. 1996; Donovan et al. 1993). There are no known reproductive behaviours that may make Long-finned Pilot Whales vulnerable to a threatening process, although an average calving interval of over five years leads to an extremely low reproductive capacity.
Geographical associations between Long-finned Pilot Whales and squid have been reported widely (Bernard & Reilly 1999). This species is lkely to feed at bathymetric upper slopes and canyons (DEWHA 2008a). Stomach contents confirm that squid are the main prey for the southern subspecies of Long-finned Pilot Whale off Australia, although some fish are also taken.
Whales stranded in Tasmania had eaten both fish and squid, but cephalopods were clearly preferred, with larger species and individuals preferentially selected. Preferred species included:
, a common neritic species in southern Australia;
E. galaxias is also found in Long-finned Pilot Whale stomachs from Western Australia (Bannister et al. 1996).
Long-finned Pilot Whale groups tend to bunch up when travelling and spread out when feeding. They feed mostly at night, when dives may last for 18 minutes or more and be down to 828 m depth (Carwardine 1995; Heide-Jørgensen et al. 2003). Throughout its range, Long-finned Pilot Whale sightings reflect the distribution of their preferred diet (Aguayo et al. 1998), with new tracking studies showing a preference over the border of the continental shelf (Bloch et al. 1993c; Bloch et al. 2002). As a fast active predator, Long-finned Pilot Whales possibly cooperate in herding schools of prey. Long-finned Pilot Whale groups have been described as swimming abreast in a line several kilometres across, a behaviour associated with foraging in pelagic cetaceans (Gaskin 1985).
Werth (2000) described the feeding mechanism in captive juvenile Long-finned Pilot Whales as consisting of repetitive depression and retraction of the large, piston-like tongue, thus generating negative intraoral pressures that suck prey into the mouth and down the digestive tract. Food was reportedly normally ingested without grasping by teeth, yet was manipulated with lingual, hyoid, and mandibular movement for realignment.
Some Long-fined Pilot Whales appear to live permanently either offshore or inshore, while others make seasonal migrations, moving inshore in summer and autumn and offshore in winter and spring (Culik 2003).
In the Northwest Atlantic, Long-finned Pilot Whales move towards the shelf edge during mid-winter through early spring, then move northward along the edge to George's Bank and Nova Scotia, arriving off Newfoundland in summer (Culik 2003). The inshore-offshore movements in the western North Atlantic have been correlated with movements of the preferred prey, squid. A radio-tacked Long-finned Pilot Whale was located by satellite during movements of at least 7588 km and sighted from an aircraft several times in the company of other pilot whales. Similar observations on relative abundance of Long-finned Pilot Whales and squid are reported from the Faroe Islands (Bernard & Reilly 1999; Reyes 1991).
No information is available for Long-finned Pilot Whales off Australia, but it is plausible that they may make extensive movements similar to those in the Northwest Atlantic (Mate 1989). Mass strandings on Australian coasts certainly suggest seasonal occurrence, with all but three events historically occurring from September to March and 60% occurring from December to March (Bannister et al. 1996).
Long-finned Pilot Whales are highly gregarious, usually travelling in small, socially cohesive groups of around 1050 individuals, but are also encountered in large herds of several hundred and occasionally of over 1000 individuals (Bloch 1998; Zachariassen 1993). Based on photo-identification and genetic work, Long-finned Pilot Whales appear to live in relatively stable pods like those of Killer Whales, and not in the fluid groups characteristic of many smaller dolphins (Canadas & Sagarminaga 2000; Jefferson et al. 1993). They are social animals, with close matrilineal associations and groups composed of around 60% females (Amos 1991; Culik 2003).
Most animals remain within their natal (birth) pod, which is centred around reproductive females, but matings may occur between pods (Ross 2006). There is no evidence of male dominance or competition, but scars corroborate reports of intraspecific aggression (Ross 2006). Long-finned Pilot Whale groups tend to bunch up when travelling and spread out when feeding. A satellite tracked Long-finned Pilot Whale (with conspecifics) in the North Pacific averaged 80 km/day, travelling at an average speed of 3.3 km/hr. The greatest distance travelled in one day was 234 km, while the fastest speed of over 16 km/hr was sustained for periods over three hours (Ross 2006).
The Long-finned Pilot Whale has a distinctive globose head and low, wide-based dorsal fin, one third of the way back from the snout tip (Jefferson et al. 1993). Long-finned and Short-finned Pilot Whales (G. macrorhynchus) are difficult to distinguish at sea, but do differ, as their names suggest, in flipper length, as well as skull shape and number of teeth. On average, the flippers reach 1830% of the body length in Long-finned Pilot Whales, but only 1419% in Short-finned Pilot Whales (Bloch et al. 1993a). In the lower latitudes of its range, the Long-finned Pilot Whale can be confused with False Killer and, less likely, Pygmy Killer and Melon-headed Whales. However, the differences in head shape and dorsal fin shape and position should permit differentiation.
Long-finned Pilot Whales can be difficult to detect due to the propensity for entire groups to rest motionless ('log') at the surface (Leatherwood & Reeves 1983), although this behaviour does often allow boats to approach closely to confirm identification. In addition, travelling groups of Long-finned Pilot Whales may swim abreast in a line several kilometres across, providing easier detectability for observers. Social activities include spy-hopping and tail-slapping, while young animals may occasionally breach (Leatherwood & Reeves 1983).
Long-finned Pilot Whales often form mixed-species groups with Atlantic White-sided Dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) and Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) (Bloch et al. 1993c), which are often more surface active and may attract the initial attention of observers. Baraff and Asmutis (1998) describe the association of an individually identified Long-finned Pilot Whale with Atlantic White-sided Dolphins over six consecutive years. Long-finned Pilot Whales have also been observed in close association with Fin, Sperm and Minke Whales, and Common, Bottlenose, Hourglass and possibly Dusky Dolphins (Goodall & Macnie 1998). Off Tasmania, Long-finned Pilot Whales have been recorded with Southern Right Whales and Sperm Whales, the latter at sea mounts where Orange Roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) are present. A mass stranding in Tasmania around 1868 also included False Killer Whales and Killer Whales, but the circumstances are unclear (Bannister et al. 1996; Nicol 1987).
Cetacean surveys are constrained by several important factors including weather (sea state and light conditions), area to be covered, aim of the survey (abundance estimate v/s ecological studies), the activities of the animals themselves (traveling, resting, surface v/s deep feeding), and the type of craft used for the survey.
Surveys for oceanic cetaceans such as Long-finned Pilot Whales have primarily been boat-based transects. There are almost no dedicated cetacean surveys conducted in continental Australian waters. During non-dedicated surveys, a minimum requirement is to record all cetacean sightings encountered with corresponding GPS position, environmental data (sea conditions and habitat) and behavioural observations. From fishing vessels, all incidentally caught animals should be recorded with corresponding GPS position, plus attempts should be made to obtain basic biological information from dead animals (V. Peddemors 2006, pers. comm.).
Past threats to Long-finned Pilot Whales include minor incidental takes by pelagic whalers in the 19th century, with possibly some large catches in Tasmanian waters during this period (Bannister et al. 1996). Otherwise, southern populations have not been significantly commercially exploited (Reeves et al. 2003).
Current and potential threats to Southern Hemisphere Long-finned Pilot Whales include possible entanglement in drift nets and other nets set, lost or discarded in international waters; competition from expanding commercial fisheries, especially in mid- to higher latitudes; and pollution leading to accumulation of toxic substances in body tissues (Bannister et al. 1996; Ross 2006). Long-finned Pilot Whale interactions with fisheries, particularly their tendency to remove bait and stock from longlines and sport fishing gear, have resulted in mortalities (as a result of entanglement, injury or incidental by-catch) in recent years (DEWHA 2008a; Reeves et al. 2003).
In the Australia's South-west Marine Region, the main threats to Long-finned Pilot Whales include commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration and development, Department of Defence activities, shipping, human maritime and shore sourced pollution, recreational boating and whale/dolphin watching activities (DEWHA 2008a).
Although little is known about reproduction in Southern Hemisphere Long-finned Pilot Whales, it is likely that they have a low reproductive rate, producing one offspring every several years (Desportes et al. 1993; Martin & Rothery 1993). This means that population recovery is likely to be a slow process.
Bannister and colleagues (1996) and Ross (2006) recommended the following actions be taken to better understand the threats to Long-finned Pilot Whales:
- Determine the distribution and monitor abundance of Long-finned Pilot Whales in Australian waters to assess the possible impact of threats, particularly the effect of direct and indirect fishing activities. This should be done via a sighting program to monitor numbers, particularly in temperate and sub-Antarctic waters. There should be consideration to pool existing sightings and strandings data to locate possible concentration areas.
- Obtain information on Long-finned Pilot Whale diet to determine their trophic level and assess any possible impact of the fishing industry on Odontocete food resources.
- Obtain basic biological information (including diet, pollutant levels and tissue samples for genetic analysis) from incidentally-caught and stranded Long-finned Pilot Whale specimens.
- Ensure adequate protection for species and its resources in Australian and nearby waters.
- Conduct disentanglement workshops, particularly for offshore fishers, and develop suitable action plans.
Current projects initiated to address these threats include a requirement to report all incidental catches made within the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone. A project funded by Australian Centre for Applied Marine Mammal Science looking at the population genetics of pilot whales stranded in Australia and New Zealand is currently underway at the University of Auckland.
The Action Plan for Australian Cetaceans (Bannister et al. 1996) and the Review of the Conservation Status of Australia's Smaller Whales and Dolphins (Ross 2006) provide brief management recommendations for the species. In addition, Guidelines on the application of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to interactions between offshore seismic operations and larger cetaceans (EA 2001k), and Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching (DEH 2005c) have been published.
No threats data available.
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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.
Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Globicephala melas in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Mon, 10 Mar 2014 22:41:19 +1100.