Minke Whale, by John Calambokidis
Up to 50 years
700-1,000 lbs (318-454 kg)
10 ft (3.0 m)
ADULT FEMALE FACTS
20,000 lbs (9,200 kg)
27 ft (8.2 m)
ADULT MALE FACTS
20,000 lbs (9,200 kg)
26 ft. (8.0 m)
Minke whales (pronounced mink-ey), are one of the smallest baleen whales in North American waters and are the smallest of the “rorqual” whales. The rorqual whales or “great whale” family include blue whale, fin whale, Bryde’s whale, sei whale, and humpback whale. Minke whales are the most abundant rorqual whale found throughout the world, with a relatively stable population compared to other large whales. They have a sleek body, sharply pointed head, and a taller sickle-shaped dorsal fin. Minke whales were jokingly named after Meincke, a Norwegian whaler who mistook them for blue whales. The scientific name translates to “winged whale, sharp snout”. They are extremely fast swimmers, reaching speeds of 18-24 knots (16-21 mph) and often keep up with moving vessels. Spending little time on the surface, minke whales can be difficult to spot.
Minke whales are not very surface active, making them hard to spot. Unlike other whale species, they don’t raise their flukes out of the water when going down for a dive. When they come to the surface to breathe, it is a quick and fluid movement. Their blow is smaller than other whales, more bushy and is about 6.5-10 feet high.
The minke whales in the inland waters of Washington/Oregon/California are considered “resident” to the area and do not have a full migration like other baleen whales. The can be seen year-round along The Whale Trail, however, there are more sightings during the summer months.
Minke whales are found in both inshore/coastal and offshore/oceanic 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.
There are two types of minke whales found world wide. The northern, or common, and the antarctic. The northern, also known as the common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata scammoni) are regular summer visitors to Washington’s inland waters. The northern minke whales found in Alaskan waters are migratory, but the minke whales found in the inland waters of Washington/Oregon/California are considered “residents” because they have established home ranges and not all migrate. The northern minke whale also have a dwarf minke whale, but it is not separated as its own species yet.
Minke whales have a tall and curved dorsal fin and narrow pectoral flippers with a white patch. They are dark grey in color with some white on the underside. They have lighter streaks on their mid-back and a light chevron marking behind the head.
Minke whales are the smallest of the rorqual group. Rorquals have long pleats from their lower jaw to the belly area, allowing the throat to expand while feeding and consuming large amounts of water filled with food.
Minke whales become sexually mature around 3-8 years old or when they reach around 23 feet in size. Their gestation period is 10-11 months and females give birth every year to a year and a half. The calf is considered weaned after 4-6 months.
Minke whales are usually solitary or in small groups up to three. Sometimes they are seen in larger groups into the hundreds while feeding. Minke whales vocalize and make sounds that included clicks, thumps, ratchets, and recently discovered “boings”.
Minke whales feed by lunging into schools of prey and trap prey filled water in the mouth using their baleen. They opportunistically feed on krill, crustaceans, plankton and small schooling fish such as, anchovies, capelin, cod, sand lance, and herring.
Minke whales are not considered endangered or threatened but they are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. During the whaling times, they were not hunted as heavily as other whale species, although they are hunted now by Greenland, Japan and Norway.
Threats facing minke whales are entanglement in fishing gear, ocean noise, habitat disturbance and vessel strikes. Minke whales are also still hunted in Greenland, Japan and Norway for food and scientific research. They are also food sources for transient killer whales and in Antarctic waters, minke whales make up 85% of killer whales’ diets.