Minke whales - Minke whales are curious, playful and widespread. They can be found everywhere, in Australia even while snorkeling.


The smallest of the baleen whales. Often curious and playful - and sometimes gone within seconds.


Photo: iStock/ekvals


The smallest of the baleen whales. Often curious and playful - and sometimes gone within seconds.


Photo: iStock/ekvals


Minke whales are among the most popular of whale watchers: On the one hand because they are so playful, on the other hand because there are still so many of them.

Minke whales are the smallest and most common great whales. Personally, I’m most amazed by the size of whales and needing some luck to meet them in the first place. That’s why I’m not terribly overwhelmed by minke whales (so far).

Nonetheless, they are very popular on whale watching tours, as they are very playful and curious. They often come very close to the boats and accompany them for some time. They also like to appear totally randomly – and also disappear again that way. So you constantly have to be on the lookout.

Public focus lays on minke whales, as they are still officially hunted by the remaining whaling nations. There are an estimated 500.000 minke whales worldwide, which seems to be a high enough number for whaling nations like Norway, Iceland and Japan to kill several thousand animals every year.

This can lead to strange conflicts in countries with increasing whale activities: At times, watchers and whalers compete for the same whale.

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Reading books about whaling in the 19th and 20th century showed me the incredible madness of the whole thing:

Whales being slaughtered by the millions on industrial ships, gigantic mobile slaughterhouses, killing at a speed as if whales were a natural resource, recovering endlessly and at will. Improved techniques to kill more animals even faster and just moving on to the next one when one species had gone extinct and moving to another ocean when one had been emptied of life.

Almost every kind of great whale was forced onto the brink of extinction by this decade long, uncontrolled excess. And what for? Mostly for fuel and lamp oil. The whales’ layer of lard was the foundation of several industries. Candles, colors, soaps, cosmetics, clothes and even explosives were made from parts of whales. Explosives, which were then used to kill even more whales.

Minke whales are the smallest of all big whales. With seven to ten meters they are not exactly tiny.

Only with the invention of synthetic materials and petrol, whales lost their importance as a source for raw materials in the middle of the 20th century. About time then, as there were barely any whales left.

Today, minke whales are the most hunted whales. However, not for their oil but for their meat. The demand keeps on sinking every year. The paradox thing is that so many tourists ask for whale meat, considering it a traditional Norwegian or Icelandic meal.

However, that is not the case at all. Only in Japan and in some indigenous tribes, whale meat is still a part of the diet. Because of the enormous pollution in the oceans, the meat is contaminated and not really recommendable.


Photo: Shutterstock/tarpan

7 to 10 meters. Females are bigger than males. Weight: approx. 9 tons.


Dark grey back, lighter to almost white belly. Sometimes streaks of grey on the back.


Lean, streamlined body with a very pointed and v-shaped snout, flat upper jaw and sometimes a pink furrowed gorge.


Rather unremarkable, no higher than 2 to 3 meters.


Upright and crescent-shaped. The biggest one of all baleen whales, when compared to the full body size.


Dark upper side, light grey lower side. Concave rear edge with a strong indentation in the middle and pointed ends.


Very playful and curious. They appear and leave unexpectedly and sometimes keep ships company over a longer time.


5 to 8 breaths at one minute intervals are followed by a 2 to 8 minute dive. Sometimes, dives can last up to 20 minutes.


Unclear, but most likely not endangered. Worldwide population is estimated at 500.000 to a million animals.


Photo: Shutterstock/jmariel


Minke whales are easy to recognize by the pink furrows on their gorges and the high position in the water, when resurfacing.

Usually, minke whales travel in small groups with up to three animals, rarely in bigger associations. They are quite active on the surface, often spyhopping and slapping their flukes and flippers on the water.

They are playful and curious and often approaching boats, sometimes they even follow them for a longer time.

As soon as they emerge, minke whales can be easily distinguished from all other whales because they always lift their heads out of the water at a flat angle so that the pink furrows can often be seen.

Occasionally minke whales breach, but this somewhat looks a bit too motivated and also a bit misshapen. Sorry!

When exhaling, the minke whale lies somewhat higher in the water than other whales, so that head and back are well recognizable. In contrast to the much longer blue and fin whales, the minke whale shows blowhole and fin at the same time.

Normally, minke whales take 5 to 8 breaths every minute. Before the next longer dive they bend the back to a clear hump, also the tail is strongly bent, the fluke is however hardly ever lifted into the air.

Minke whales stay for 2 to 8 minutes under water, sometimes also up to 20. They like to reappear in completely different places than one would actually suspect.


Photo: Oliver Dirr / whaletrips

Where and when MINKE WHALES

Minke whales can be met at almost every whale watching location all over the world. In Quebec you can even observe them from land.

Minke whales occur in all oceans and generally prefer colder waters to warmer ones. Therefore, they spend the summer in the higher, the winter in the lower latitudes. Many populations migrate constantly back and forth, but others are resident and spend the whole year in the same area.

Similar to fin whales, minke whales can be found in most places where other whales can be observed. Most whale watching providers specialize in humpback whales, gray whales, sperm whales or orcas, there are rather few tours that focus primarily on minke whales. Nevertheless it can be a real highlight to meet them.

The best chances are around Iceland, but also in Norway, Greenland and the British Isles. Very often you can also meet them on the American and Canadian east coast, in Quebec there are some places where you can even see them from land.

On the American and Canadian west coast they are a bit less common, but here you can also be lucky. Also in Australia, where you can meet them even while snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef.

Minke whales like to stay close to the coast, in some areas they can even be observed very well from land.

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