Description & Characteristics:
The smallest of the rorqual or large baleen whales, Minke whales were generally ignored as a commercial species until quite recently. As the larger whales became more scarce (and gained more protected status) Minkes have become more economically attractive. Though opposed by many countries, including the United States, Norway and Japan continue to legally hunt Minkes for both scientific and commercial purposes taking a few hundred each year.
Found throughout the world’s oceans, from the Arctic to the Antarctic Minkes are by far the most abundant baleen (or filter-feeding) whales in the Southern Ocean. They can be observed traveling alone or in small groups in areas of high food availability. During the summer months, dense concentrations of Minkes are often found in southern waters where they feed close to the edge of the polar pack ice, often in bays or estuaries. In winter, most animals move north to the lower latitudes.
Minkes have a narrow v-shaped head with a sharply pointed snout, relatively short flippers (only reaching one-eighth their body length), and a tall dorsal fin They have black or dark grey backs with white bellies. A distinguishing feature is the pale-grey, diagonal blazing on the flanks, one above and behind the flippers and one in front of the fin. As with all baleen whales, the females are slightly larger than the males.
Minkes are excellent swimmers sometimes reaching speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. They are known to approach slow-moving or stationary vessels.
Like all baleen whales Minkes are filter feeders. They feed in a variety of different ways, depending on the prey concerned. One method observed involves trapping shoals of fish against the water surface where they can be easily consumed. Their adaptable diets include a wide range of fish and squid, as well as krill, copepods, and other small crustaceans.
For Minke whales, mating takes place during the winter months (August, September, and October in the Southern Ocean). Births occur the following winter, after a gestation period of ten months. The new born calf is only about eight feet long and weighs about 750 pounds. It stays with its mother for two years and reaches sexual maturity around seven. The natural life span of Minke whales is about fifty years.