Species of the month – Minke whale

The common Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) is the smallest species of the rorquals and the second smallest species of all baleen whales (only beaten by the Pygmy Right Whale).

Adult individuals can grow to be around 10m, with females being slightly longer than males, and weight up to 9 tons. Minkes are black and grey, often with a lighter grey chevron on their back. They are white on their ventral side. If you want to identify a Minke in the wild, take a look at its pectoral fins – Minkes have a white band on them, which is their diagnostic feature! Something to keep in mind when you go whale watching looking for Minkes: they do not raise their fluke when diving and their blow is usually not visible, which can make them tricky to spot.

They also have quite a distinct, V-shaped snout which is actually where their name comes from: acutorostrata means “sharp snout”. The whales got their common name after a Norwegian novice whaler named Meincke spotted an individual at a time when Minkes were still considered too small to hunt. Rumour has it, he mistook it for a Blue Whale…

Minkes are quite widely distributed as they can be found in both the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, from tropical to polar waters. The Dwarf Minke whale, which is a subspecies of the Common Minke, inhabits the Southern Hemisphere.

Like other baleen whales, Minkes are filter feeders. They usually feed on small schooling fish and krill.

While Minkes were considered too small to hunt in the past, after the overexploitation of large whales in the 20th century, they became the primary target for commercial whalers. Minke whales are still hunted in Iceland, Norway, and Japan. While the species is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, it is partly due to the lack of data. Apart from whaling, threats facing the Minke whale include entanglement in fishing gear, noise pollution and vessel strikes.

Minke lunge feeding in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Canada

Mother and calf minke in Faxaflói (Faxa Bay), Reykjavik (the calf is at the bottom of the photo, underwater… I know it’s not the best photo but I don’t have one when it surfaced, you can still see the white pectoral fin though!)

Size comparison between a Blue and a Minke… Quite impressive to confuse them I think

{Written by Zosia Krynicka}