The actual behavior and abilities of deep water whale species like the pilot whale have previously been a mystery and a source of speculation for many scientists. Recently, however, researchers have discovered that pilot whales make remarkable dives down to a depth of more than 3,000 feet, and are even able to hunt and chase down a colossal squid. Their speeds and their capacity for holding their breath in the face of trying circumstances are traits that have not previously been observed.
The demanding and incredibly fast deep ocean dives that the pilot whale undergoes on a regular basis have earned it the nickname of “the cheetah of the deep sea.” It was previously believed that pilot whales had a similar tactic to beaked whales, which move much more slowly in order to conserve energy and oxygen. Pilot whales, on the other hand, reach are able to reach a depth of up to 3,200 feet much more quickly, actually descending at a speed of 19.2 feet per second. This means they can reach that depth in only about three minutes at most. Compared to other deep ocean, breath-holding animals such as seals and dolphins, this speed is well above normal, revealing an impressive level of energy expenditure as well.
Pilot whales use their ability to hold their breath for shorter and faster dives compared with other deep-hunting birds or mammals. Typically, their dives last only about 15-20 minutes, however, researchers believe that most whales can hold their breath for up to 30 minutes at a time. Because of the fast movements and sprints they require to catch prey such as giant squids, the pilot whale is likely incapable of staying in the deep ocean as long as sperm whales or seals. In order to retain their ability for high-energy, high speed dives, the whales have to come back to the surface more frequently and stay up to catch their breath and rest for longer periods of time than most other whales.
For a long time, pilot whales were primarily compared to beaked whales. The beaked whale, however, is more of an endurance runner that spends more time underwater, descending and ascending at a much slower pace in order to retain a greater amount of energy. When it comes to holding their breath, they can also be compared to sperm whales, which typically spend about 35 minutes diving to depths of about half a mile. However, unlike pilot whales, the sperm whale is capable of holding its breath for more than 90 minutes at a time, during deeper dives.