Minke whales are one of the smallest of all baleen whales, with a sleek body and sharply pointed head. Minke whales were jokingly named after Meincke, a Norwegian whaler who mistook them for blue whales. They are extremely fast swimmers, reaching speeds of 18-24 knots (16-21 mph) and often keeping up with moving vessels. Spending little time on the surface, Minke whales are sometimes difficult to spot.
Minke whales can be found worldwide and are regular summer visitors to Washington’s inland waters. They can often be seen along The Whale Trail in the San Juan Islands and are sometimes spotted from sites along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, such as Salt Creek Recreation Area or Sekiu Overlook.
The Minke whale’s dorsal fin is tall and curved and its flippers are narrow and pointed with a variable white patch. Minke whales have dark gray to brown backs and white undersides. They have lighter streaks on their mid-back and a light chevron marking behind the head. Their gestation period is 10 to 11 months and Minke whales become sexually mature at about 6 years.
Minke whales prey on krill and small schooling fish like anchovies, sand lance and herring. They may be solitary or found in small groups in feeding areas. Minke whales are fast swimmers and sometimes curiously approach vessels. Occasionally they breach.
Transient killer whales often prey on Minke whales. While Minke whales are still hunted by Japan and Norway, their main threats are entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, and depletion of food sources.