“Debs, Debs; we saw Pilot Whales!” seems to be a recurring sentence I’ve been hearing recently following our dolphin cruises. For the last 2 weeks our lucky guests have frequently been sighting these beautiful creatures cruising along the Eastern side of Gili Lankanfushi. The Short-Finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) is actually a type of large dolphin according to its classification in the family Delphinidae. It is easily recognisable in the water due to its dark colouration, bulbous head, and highly curved dorsal fin.
The large head and curvature of the dorsal fin can be clearly seen from the boat. Credit: Frank Michell
Pilot whales spy hop to get an idea of what’s going on above the water. Credit: Frank Mitchell
Commonly spotted in small groups of 8-20, we have been seeing more than 40 individuals on our trips at one time. This leads us to believe that this may be an aggregation where males from each pod may be crossing over with other pods to breed. The pilot whales are one of the few species of cetacean where the males and females remain in the same family pod, whereas in many other species, the males split off and form ‘bachelor pods’ which discourages inbreeding. In pilot whale populations, inbreeding never happens due to these inter-pod aggregations which may be formed.
She turns sideways and smiles for the camera! Credit: Frank Mitchell
It didn’t take long to convince our training manager, Frank Mitchell, to board his first ever dolphin cruise in 3 years of working at Gili Lankanfushi. One of the best photographers on our island, Frank took some incredible shots, and was thoroughly spoiled as the highly intelligent pilot whales seemed to enjoy spending time with our boat. More so than other dolphin species, the pilots were bow riding for over 40 minutes, spy hopping, and often turning sideways to get a good eyeful of our excited guests!
I will be joining the dolphin cruise (or should we call it pilot whale cruise?!) tonight to try and get a glimpse of my first ever pilot whale!! It’s likely their presence is related to the change in season, and that they’re following some food source- I hope they stick around for a while longer!
My thanks go to Frank Mitchell for providing such beautiful images!