The scientific tourist #266 — a pilot whale skeleton

Courtesy of the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, it’s the skeleton of a pilot whale:

Pilot Whale

In biological taxonomy, pilot whales are a member of the dolphin family (Delphinidae), and so are also closely related to the orca (“killer whale”) but are considerably smaller.  Pilot whales are the second largest of the family.

Pilot whales are as intelligent as the oceanic dolphins, and are extremely social, which may be part of the reason why this specimen is on display.  Like other cetaceans, pilot whales do beach themselves from time to time.  Pilot whales are among the most commonly found cetaceans on beaches, but more critically, when pilot whales beach themselves they tend to do it in family groups.  Strandings of several hundred pilot whales at a time are not unheard of, but are still not understood (persistence to keep the group together may play a part).  This particular skeleton was the largest found on Sable Island, but was far from alone — hundreds of smaller pilot whale skeletons have also been found there.

The pilot whale’s social nature has it also made it easier for societies to hunt them in various places, where whole groups have been herded to a beach for slaughter.  This has resulted in local depletions of the pilot whale population, but the species is not currently felt to be in danger of extinction.

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