Size: max 9.8m
Key feature: Blow hole and dorsal fin visible together
Minke whales are the smallest of the rorqual whales. The name rorqual refers to the folds of skin under the lower jaw that allow the mouth of the whale to expand when it takes in large amounts of water for food. The appearance is variable depending on where in the world it is seen and sub species of minke whale occur. Overall, the minke whale has a dark dorsal fin and a white underbelly with a grey “smoky” pattern on its flanks. If spotted breaching, minke whales can typically be distinguished by the white band on both of their flippers. They have a small sickle shaped dorsal fin, two thirds of the way down their back which can be seen at the same time as the blow hole.
Minke whales tend to move unpredictably. They are elusive creatures and are typically seen on their own. When they surface the blow hole and dorsal fin are seen at the same time. The minke whale often breaches, revealing its tell-tale striped flippers. They are usually solitary animals, but when feeding can be seen in groups of up to 10 individuals.
The minke whale is the most abundant rorqual whale in European waters. It has a worldwide distribution, but consists of two different species; the common minke and theAntarctic minke. Within the common minke, different sub-species exist. Some populations of minke whale migrate throughout the year. Minke whales have been seen throughout European waters on ORCA surveys. ORCA's State of European Cetaceans report has inferred that minke whales seasonally migrate through the North Sea with a peak in numbers in the summer months.
Minke whales are one of many species which have been put under threat by commercial whaling, their name even originated from a 18th century Norwegian whaler. They were commercially hunted by a number of countries until the 1980's. However hunting of minke whales continues today by Japan, Iceland, and Norway. Japan catch whales for “scientific research” then commercially process the whale carcasses after the research has taken place. As well as whaling, threats which impact all cetaceans such as pollution, reduction of prey by over fishing and bycatch apply to minke whales. There have also been numerous records of ship collisions causing fatalities of minke whales in UK waters.