Minke whales

MINKE WHALES

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

Credit

Foto: istock/ekvals

Review MINKE WHALES

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.

»Minke whales are the only whales that are still being hunted by whaling nations – not because of their oil anymore, but because of their meat.«

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.

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.

Credit

Illustration: Tobias Gehrt / studio2112.de
SIZE

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

COLOUR

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

SHAPE

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

BLOW

Rather unremarkable, no higher than 2 to 3 meters.

FIN

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

FLUKE

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

BEHAVIOR

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

DIVES

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.

NUMBERS

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

Credit

Foto: shutterstock/Dmytro_Pylypenko

Checklist MINKE WHALES

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

Mostly, minke whales travel in groups of up to 3, only rarely in bigger packs. They are very active on the surface, splash their flukes and flippers into the water and rise up far out of the water when spyhopping. When it comes to boats, minke whales are curious and friendly. Sometimes they accompany ships for a longer time.

Already when surfacing, minke whales are easy to recognize by the pink furrows on their gorges. When exhaling, minke whales lie higher in the water than other whales, exposing head and back. Other than blue whales and finbacks, minke whales are small enough to show both fin and blowhole at the same time.

Usually, minke whales draw breath 5 to 8 times at one minute intervals. Before a longer dive, they bend their backs to a visible hump. The tail gets bent as well; the fluke gets raised almost never, though.

After that, minke whales dive for 2 to 8 minutes, sometimes up to 20. They often resurface at places you would never expect them to.

Credit

Foto: istock/Daniel_Benhaim

Where and when MINKE WHALES

Minke whales can be met at almost every whale watching location all over the world. In Australia you can even go snorkeling with them.

Even though preferring colder waters, minke whales can be found all over the world. Summers are spent in northern latitudes, the winter in lower, southern attitudes. A lot of populations migrate back and forth all year long, others are true to their location and stay in their home region.

Like finbacks, minke whales can usually be found where other kinds of whales can be seen, too. Most whale watching tour providers have specialized on finbacks, blue whales, sperm whales and orcas and there are barely any tours that prioritize minke whales. Nonetheless, meeting them can be a real highlight.

Best chances of spotting a minke whale are along the regions in front of Iceland, Norway, Greenland and along the coasts of Northern America. In Australia, you can even meet them while snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.