Globicephalinae

 

Common Name: Small Toothed Whales or Blackfish

Class: Mammalia

Order: Cetacea

Family: Delphinidae

Subfamily: Globicephalinae

Genus: Five genera

Species: Six species

 

Small Toothed Whales: Subfamily Globicephalinae

The whales of the subfamily Globicephalinae belong to the Mammalian Order Cetacea, in the suborder Odontoceti.  All toothed whales belong to the suborder Odontoceti, which is Latin for "toothed whales".  Globicephalinae is derived from the Latin word globus, meaning "a round ball", and the Greek word kephale, meaning "head".  This refers to the round, bulbous heads of these animals, which do not have prominent beaks.

Globicephalinae is a subdivision of the family Delphinidae, the largest cetacean family.  The six species are the pygmy killer whale, Feresa attenuata , false killer whale, Pseudorca crassidens, melon-headed whale, Peponocephala electra, long-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melas, short-finned pilot whale, Globicephala macrorhynchus, and killer whale, Orcinus orca. Members of this family are characterized by dark gray or black coloration, prominent dorsal fins, and a bulbous forehead lacking a distinguished rostrum.  Sailors collectively called the species of this subfamily "blackfish".

There are five genera within the subfamily Globicephalinae, containing a total of six species.  The genera and species are:

Genus:  Feresa

The generic name Feresa, is probably derived from the Latin word ferus, meaning "fierce".  This may be a reference to the killer whale, a species for which this genera shares some skeletal similarities.

 

Pygmy killer whale Feresa attenuata

The specific name, attenuata, is Latin for "tapered".  This refers to the body of the pygmy killer whale as it becomes more slender from the head towards the dorsal fin.  The species is commonly called the pygmy killer whale because it has some skeletal similarities to the killer whale, Orcinus orca. This species inhabits temperate and tropical ocean waters worldwide.  Adults are dark gray in color, occasionally with lighter lateral coloration and white areas on the lips and underside.  Adults measure 6-7 feet in length and 250-300lbs in weight.  Captive pygmy killer whales ate mackerel, sardines, and squid.  Interestingly, despite their small size, pygmy killer whales eat other species of dolphin.  Dolphins kept with captive pygmy killer whales exhibit fear behaviors.  Length at birth is 2.5 feet.  These animals live in pods with 5-10 individuals.  Pygmy killer whales are not observed as commonly as other members of Globicephalinae.

 

 

 

Genus:  Pseudorca

The generic name Pseudorca, is derived from the Greek  pseudes, meaning "false", and the Latin word orca, which is referring to the killer whale, Orcinus orca.  This is especially appropriate because the single species in this genus is the false killer whale, which resembles the killer whale in general body shape.

 

False killer whale Pseudorca crassidens

The specific name, crassidens, is derived from the Latin words crassus, meaning "heavy or thick", and dens, meaning "tooth".  This refers to the large, heavy teeth of this species.  This species inhabits temperate and tropical ocean waters worldwide.  Adults are dark gray in color, occasionally with lighter lateral coloration and white areas on the lips and underside.  Males measure 18-19 feet in length.  Females reach 15 feet in length.  Adults may reach 1.5 tons.  Captive false killer whales were not aggressive towards other dolphins.  Interestingly, a male false killer whale and female bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, successfully interbred, producing a hybrid offspring at Hawaii's Sea Life Park.  Squid, fish and young dolphins are eaten.  Gestation lasts 15-16 months.  Length at birth is 5-6 feet.  Calves are weaned at 1.5-2 years.  Sexual maturity is attained at 8-11 years for females and 16-21 years for males.  These animals live in large groups, occasionally exceeding 100 individuals.  False killer whales are numerous and currently not in immediate danger of extinction.

 

False killer whale, Pseudorca crassidens

 

 

Genus:  Peponocepahla

The generic name Peponocephala, is derived from the Latin words pepo, meaning "pumpkin", and the Greek kephale, meaning "head".  This refers to the shape of the head.

 

Melon-headed whale Peponocephala electra

The specific name, electra, is probably named for the Greek nymph Elektra, a daughter of Oceanus, a mythical personification of the Atlantic Ocean.  This species inhabits temperate and tropical ocean waters worldwide.  Adults are dark gray in color with lighter white areas on the lips and a white oval on the underside.  Adults measure 8-9 feet in length and 450lbs in weight.  Squid and fish are the main components of the melon-headed whale's diet.  Gestation lasts about 12 months.  Length at birth is three feet.  Sexual maturity is attained at 7 years for females and 10 years for males.  These animals live in large groups, occasionally exceeding 100 individuals.  Melon-headed whales are numerous and currently not in immediate danger in of extinction

 

Melon-headed whale, Peponocephala electra

 

 

Genus:  Globicephala

The generic name Globicephala, is derived from the Latin word globus, meaning "a round ball", and the Greek kephale, meaning "head".  This refers to the round, bulbous heads of these animals, which do not have prominent beaks.  Both species are commonly called pilot whales. They are referred to as pilot whales because the largest male acts as the leader or pilot for the rest of the group (Webster's Third New International Dictionary).

 

Long-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas

The specific name, melas, is Greek for "black".  This refers to the general coloration of the animal.  This species inhabits temperate and tropical ocean waters worldwide.  Sexual maturity is attained at 6-9 years for females and 11-18 years for males.  The pectoral fins of long-finned pilot whales exceed 16% of their overall body length, while those of short-finned pilot whales do not exceed 15% of their overall body length.  Adults measure 11-25 feet in length and 1000-6000lbs in weight.  Adult males weight twice as much as adult females.  Pilot whales are the second largest members of Delphinidae, with only the killer whale, Orcinus orca, being larger.  Squid is the main component of the pilot whale's diet.  Gestation lasts about 12 months.  Length at birth is about six feet.  Calves are weaned at two years.  Sexual maturity is attained at 7-12 years for females and 15-22 years for males.  Males leave their school after weaning, while females remain.  This forms a matrilineal society.  These animals live in large groups, occasionally exceeding 1000 individuals. 

 

The social system is quite complex.  Individual males or small groups of males maintain harems of females.  During the time when commercial whalers exploited whales, pilot whales would rush towards harpooned individuals.  Panicked animals would rush towards shallow water, exposing themselves as easy targets for whalers.  This type of behavior is probably responsible for the mass strandings associated with pilot whales.  Researchers theorize the echolocation of the pod leader malfunctions, driving him to shallow water, resulting in his own stranding.  The other pod members panic and run themselves aground, possibly trying to aid the leading pilot whale.  Captive pilot whales are similar in trainability to commonly performing cetacean species.  They are numerous and currently not in danger of extinction.

 

Short-finned pilot whale Globicephala macrorhynchus

The specific name, macrorhyncus, is derived from the Greek words makros, which means "large or long", and rhunkos, which means "snout or beak".  This probably refers to the large front portion of the animal's head.  This species inhabits cool temperate ocean waters of the Southern Hemisphere and North Atlantic.  Adults are completely black with the exception of a white mark beneath the chin.  The pectoral fins of long-finned pilot whales exceed 16% of their overall body length, while those of short-finned pilot whales do not exceed 15% of their overall body length.  The biology of the short-finned pilot whale is similar to that of the long-finned pilot whale.

 

Short-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melas

 

 

Genus: Orcinus

The generic name, Orcinus, is Latin for "whale-like".

 

Killer whale or Orca Orcinus orca

Click to learn about Killer Whales

 

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.