Yesterday we found a mess (about 12 sub groups, spread out over 8 nautical miles) of pilot whales. This was our first sighting of this species all leg. In fact the chief scientist had just mentioned that we hadn't seen them. (Of course once we saw them everyone started in with the , "We haven't seen killer whales... or mesoplodon... or a million bucks either!")
Pilot whales are beautiful in their own strange way. They are a member of the "blackfish" or the Globicephalinae subfamily (literally means "globe-head) that are all or mostly black and have rounded heads instead of beaks. They're not true whales at all, but firmly nested with the dolphin family. Pilot whales are one of the biggest species (actually two species) of dolphin, but still much smaller than the true whales. They also have teeth like dolphins and they are fairly social like most dolphins. The adult males are easily distinguishable from the females by their HUGE dorsal fin. Unlike killer whales that are also "sexually dimorphic", the male pilot whales have very broad dorsal fins instead of really tall dorsal fins. Its pretty awesome - a big males head looks like a big shiny black helmet and their dorsal fin looks like a jet pack designed when Art Deco was the rage. This combination reminds me of the Rocketeer!!
Thanks to IMDB for the poster, and A. Mackay of Cascadia Research for the Globicephala photo.
I finally got a fair chance at using my marksmanship skills. Photos are coming as soon as I can pry them from the hands of the photo team. You'll get a more detailed description of the transgressions then. It’s somehow fitting that my Okie friends are probably gearing up for their annual Thanksgiving clay pigeon shoot-off at Grampa Constien's ranch. Hope you're proud of me boys for bringing a little of the Turkey-day tradition to the central north Pacific!
Scientifically speaking, this is a great sample to have, as we don't have any from this species in this region of the ocean. Now who knows when NOAA will have enough samples for some lowly graduate student to actually analyze them, but at least this one is "in the freezer".