Minke whale

The minke whale /ˈmɪnki/, or lesser rorqual, is a species complex of baleen whale.[1] The two species of minke whale are the common (or northern) minke whale and the Antarctic (or southern) minke whale.[2] The minke whale was first described by the Danish naturalist Otto Fabricius in 1780, who assumed it must be an already known species and assigned his specimen to Balaena rostrata, a name given to the northern bottlenose whale by Otto Friedrich Müller in 1776.[3] In 1804, Bernard Germain de Lacépède described a juvenile specimen of Balaenoptera acuto-rostrata.[4] The name is a partial translation of Norwegian minkehval, possibly after a Norwegian whaler named Meincke, who mistook a northern minke whale for a blue whale.[5]

Minke whales
Dwarf minke whale
Dwarf minke whale
Size compared to an average human
Size compared to an average human
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Infraorder: Cetacea
Family: Balaenopteridae
Genus: Balaenoptera
Species complex: minke whale species complex


Whale comparison Public Domian photo by Charles Melville Scammon for coast of North America (1872)
Comparison of humpback and minke whale. Illustration by Charles Melville Scammon (1825–1911).

Most modern classifications split the minke whale into two species;


Taxonomists further categorize the common minke whale into two or three subspecies; the North Atlantic minke whale, the North Pacific minke whale and dwarf minke whale. All minke whales are part of the rorquals, a family that includes the humpback whale, the fin whale, the Bryde's whale, the sei whale and the blue whale.

The junior synonyms for B. acutorostrata are B. davidsoni (Scammon 1872), B. minimia (Rapp, 1837) and B. rostrata (Fabricius, 1780). There is one synonym for B. bonaerensis - B. huttoni (Gray 1874).

Writing in his 1998 classification, Rice recognized two of the subspecies of the common minke whale - B. a. scammoni (Scammon's minke whale) and a further taxonomically unnamed subspecies found in the Southern Hemisphere, the dwarf minke whale (first described by Best, 1985).[7]

On at least one occasion, an Antarctic minke whale has been confirmed migrating to the Arctic.[8][9] In addition, at least two wild hybrids between a common minke whale and an Antarctic minke whale have been confirmed.[8][9][10]


Balaenoptera acustorostrata - Zwergwalskelett
Minke whale skeleton, Museum Koenig, University of Bonn.
Heart of a Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
Heart of a Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).

The minke whales are the second smallest baleen whale; only the pygmy right whale is smaller. Upon reaching sexual maturity (6–8 years of age), males measure an average of 6.9 m (23 ft) and females 8 m (26 ft) in length, respectively. Reported maximum lengths vary from 9.1 to 10.7 m (30 to 35 ft) for females and 8.8 to 9.8 m (29 to 32 ft) for males. Both sexes typically weigh 4–5 t (3.9–4.9 long tons; 4.4–5.5 short tons) at sexual maturity, and the maximum weight may be as much as 10 t (9.8 long tons; 11 short tons).

The minke whale is a black/gray/purple color. Common minke whales (Northern Hemisphere variety) are distinguished from other whales by a white band on each flipper. The body is usually black or dark-gray above and white underneath. Minke whales have between 240 and 360 baleen plates on each side of their mouths. Most of the length of the back, including dorsal fin and blowholes, appears at once when the whale surfaces to breathe.

Minke whales typically live for 30–50 years; in some cases they may live for up to 60 years.

Minke whales have a digestive system composed of four compartments with a high density of anaerobic bacteria throughout. The presence of the bacteria suggests minke whales rely on microbial digestion to extract nutrients provided by their food.[11]

As with most Mysticetes, the auditory system for the minke whale is not well understood. However, magnetic resonance imaging points to evidence that the minke whale has fat deposits in their jaws intended for sound reception, much like Odontocetes.[12]

The brains of minke whales have around 12.8 billion neocortical neurons and 98.2 billion neocortical glia.[13]


Multimedia relating to the minke whale
Note that whale calls have been sped up to 10x their original speed.

The whale breathes three to five times at short intervals before 'deep-diving' for two to 20 minutes. Deep dives are preceded by a pronounced arching of the back. The maximum swimming speed of minkes has been estimated at 38 km/h (24 mph).


Both species undertake seasonal migration routes to the poles during spring and towards the tropics during fall and winter. Difference between the timing of the seasons may prevent the two closely related species from mixing.[14] A long-term photo identification study on the British Columbian and Washington coasts showed that some individuals travel as far as 424 km north in the spring, and 398 km south to warmer waters in the autumn. Many specifics about migration in this species still remain unclear.[15]


The gestation period for minke whales is 10 months, and calves measure 2.4 to 2.8 m (7.9 to 9.2 ft) at birth. The newborns nurse for five to 10 months. Breeding peaks during the summer months. Calving is thought to occur every two years.[16]

The timing of conception and birth varies between region.

In the North Atlantic conception takes place from December to May with a peak month of February with birth taking place from October to March with a peak in December. In the North Pacific off Japan there appears to be two phases of conception, the majority of which occurs from February to March but also from August to September, with births occurring from December to January and June to July. In the Yellow Sea stock these two phases have not been noted with conception occurring from July to September and birth peaking from May to June.

In the Southern Hemisphere conception takes place from June to December with a peak in August and September. Peak birth time occurs from July to August.[17]


Killer whale predation on minke whales has been well documented.[18] A study in 1975 found that in 49 killer whale stomachs, 84% had consumed minke whale.[19] Minke whale carcasses investigated after attacks show that killer whales have an affinity for minke tongues and lower jaw. The anti-predatory mechanism of the minke whale is strictly a flight response, as when this fails no physical retaliation is observed.[20] Chases most commonly lead into open ocean, although there have been records of minke whales inadvertently swimming into confined, shallow waters. There have been two recorded instances of minke whales ending high speed chases by hiding under a ship's hull, however, both instances were unsuccessful.[18]


North Atlantic

Minke whales in the north Atlantic are observed to take a variety of food items.[21] Before 1993, minke whales in the north Barents Sea fed predominantly on capelin until stocks collapsed and the whales switched to krill as their primary prey type.[22] The minke whale population in the Norwegian Sea primarily feeds on adult herring [23] while krill, capelin, and sand eels are also recorded prey types.[24] In Scotland, sand eels are the most commonly observed prey species, followed by herring and sprat.[25] Seasonal variations are observed off of Finnmark, with krill the most popular prey type in the summer and cod in the autumn. [21] Stable isotope analysis from 2003 shows minke whales in the north Atlantic also feed on prey from lower trophic levels as well. [26]

North Pacific

Two stocks of minke whale are observed in the North Pacific: the "J stock" (Sea of Japan - Yellow Sea - East China sea) and the "O stock" (Okhotsk sea - west Pacific).[27] Seasonal variations in diet exist. J stock whales' primary prey type is Japanese anchovy during May and June, Pacific saury in July and August, and krill in September. O stock whales primarily feed on krill in July and August. [28] Most minke whales observed in 2002 (90.4%) fed solely on one prey species. [28]


Antarctic minke whales are diurnal feeders.[29] This minke whale population mainly feeds on Antarctic krill in offshore areas and ice krill in coastal areas on the continental shelf such as the Ross sea and Prydz bay.[30] The population has been recorded to forage on ten known species: five fish (Antarctic silverfish, Antarctic jonasfish, Antarctic lanternfish, Chionodraco, and Notothenia), four euphausiids (Antarctic krill, ice krill, Euphausia frigida, Thysanoessa macrura), and one amphipod (Themisto gaudichaudii).[30]

Population and conservation status

As of 2018, the IUCN Red List labels the common minke whale as Least Concern[31] and the Antarctic minke whale as Near Threatened.[32]

COSEWIC puts both species in the Not At Risk category [1]. NatureServe lists them as G5 which means the species is secure on global range [2].

Population estimates are generated by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission. The 2004 estimate yielded 515,000 individuals for the Antarctic minke stock.[33]


Norwegian minke whale quotas (blue line, 1994-2006) and catches (red line, 1946-2005) in numbers (From Norwegian official statistics)

Whaling was mentioned in Norwegian written sources as early as the year 800, and hunting minke whales with harpoons was common in the 11th century. In the 19th century, they were considered too small to chase, and received their name from a young Norwegian whale-spotter in the crew of Svend Foyn, who harpooned one, mistaking it for a blue whale and was derided for it.[34]

By the end of the 1930s, they were the target of coastal whaling by Brazil, Canada, China, Greenland, Japan, Korea, Norway, and South Africa. Minke whales were not then regularly hunted by the large-scale whaling operations in the Southern Ocean because of their relatively small size. However, by the early 1970s, following the overhunting of larger whales such as the sei, fin, and blue whales, minkes became a more attractive target of whalers. By 1979, the minke was the only whale caught by Southern Ocean fleets. Hunting continued apace until the general moratorium on whaling began in 1986.

Following the moratorium, most hunting of minke whales ceased. Japan continued catching whales under the special research permit clause in the IWC convention, though in significantly smaller numbers. The stated purpose of the research is to establish data to support a case for the resumption of sustainable commercial whaling. Environmental organizations and several governments contend that research whaling is simply a cover for commercial whaling. The 2006 catch by Japanese whalers included 505 Antarctic minke whales. Between November 2017 and March 2018, Japan reported catches of a total of 333 Minke whales, of which 122 were pregnant females.[35]

Although Norway initially followed the moratorium, they had placed an objection to it with the IWC and resumed a commercial hunt of the Common minke whale in 1993. The quota for 2006 was set at 1,052 animals, but only 546 were taken.[36] The quota for 2011 was set at 1286.[37] In August 2003, Iceland announced it would start research catches to estimate whether the stocks around the island could sustain hunting. Three years later, in 2006, Iceland resumed commercial whaling.

A 2007 analysis of DNA fingerprinting of whale meat estimated South Korean fishermen caught 827 minke between 1999 and 2003,[38] approximately twice the officially reported number. This raised concerns that some whales were being caught deliberately.

Whale watching

Minke whale in ross sea
Minke whale in the Ross Sea

Due to their relative abundance, minke whales are often the focus of whale-watching cruises setting sail from, for instance, the Isle of Mull in Scotland, County Cork in Ireland and Húsavík in Iceland, and tours taken on the east coast of Canada. They are also one of the most commonly sighted whales seen on whale-watches from New England and eastern Canada. In contrast to humpback whales, minkes do not raise their flukes out of the water when diving and are less likely to breach (jump clear of the sea surface). This, combined with the fact that minkes can stay submerged for as long as 20 minutes, has led some whale-watchers to label them 'stinky minkes'.[39]

In the northern Great Barrier Reef (Australia), a swim-with-whales tourism industry has developed based on the June and July migration of dwarf minke whales. A limited number of reef tourism operators (based in Port Douglas and Cairns) have been granted permits by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to conduct these swims, given strict adherence to a code of practice, and that operators report details of all sightings as part of a monitoring program.

Scientists from James Cook University and the Museum of Tropical Queensland have worked closely with participating operators and the Authority, researching tourism impacts and implementing management protocols to ensure these interactions are ecologically sustainable.

Minke whales are also occasionally sighted in Pacific waters, in and around the Haro Strait of British Columbia and Washington state.


  1. ^ Malde, Ketil; Seliussen, Bjørghild B.; Quintela, María; Dahle, Geir; Besnier, Francois; Skaug, Hans J.; Øien, Nils; Solvang, Hiroko K.; Haug, Tore; Skern-Mauritzen, Rasmus; Kanda, Naohisa; Pastene, Luis A.; Jonassen, Inge; Glover, Kevin A. (13 January 2017). "Whole genome resequencing reveals diagnostic markers for investigating global migration and hybridization between minke whale species". BMC Genomics. 18 (1): 76. doi:10.1186/s12864-016-3416-5. ISSN 1471-2164. OCLC 7310574704. PMC 5237217. PMID 28086785.
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General references

External links

Antarctic minke whale

The Antarctic minke whale or southern minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) is a species of minke whale within the suborder of baleen whales. It is the second smallest rorqual after the common minke whale and the third smallest baleen whale. Although first scientifically described in the mid-19th century, it was not recognized as a distinct species until the 1990s. Once ignored by the whaling industry due to its small size and low oil yield, the Antarctic minke was able to avoid the fate of other baleen whales and maintained a large population into the 21st century, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Surviving to become the most abundant baleen whale in the world, it is now one of the mainstays of the industry alongside its cosmopolitan counterpart the common minke. It is primarily restricted to the Southern Hemisphere (although vagrants have been reported in the North Atlantic) and feeds mainly on euphausiids.


Bio-duck is a mysterious quacking-like sound which was first reported in the open ocean by submarines in the 1960s. It is recorded frequently around the coasts of Australia, and in particular in the Perth Canyon.The sounds were originally detected by sonar operators on Oberon-class submarine. They are audible with frequencies from 50 to 300 Hz. The duration of the calls is between 1.6 and 3.1 seconds. The sounds occur many times per day from winter to October, and then taper off until December; they are not heard again until the next summer.In 2014, it was claimed that the source of the sound had been identified as being vocalisations from the Antarctic minke whale. Although the reason for the vocalisations remains a mystery, they appear to be produced near the surface before deep-feeding dives. There are hopes that analysing the history, location, and frequency of the sounds will enable cetacean researchers to learn more about the life cycle of the minke.


Cephalorhynchus is a genus in the dolphin family Delphinidae.

Common minke whale

The common minke whale or northern minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) is a species of minke whale within the suborder of baleen whales.

It is the smallest member of the rorquals and the second smallest species of baleen whale. Although first ignored by whalers due to its small size and low oil yield, it began to be exploited by various countries beginning in the early 20th century. As other species declined larger numbers of common minke whales were caught, largely for their meat. It is now one of the primary targets of the whaling industry. There is a dwarf form in the Southern Hemisphere.

This species is known in the fossil record from the Pliocene epoch to the Quaternary period (age range: 3.6 million years ago to present day).


Diunatans is an extinct genus of rorqual. It lived in the North Sea during the Early Pliocene. Two specimens have been found from the Netherlands. They were collected from the Kattendijk Formation in the province of Zeeland, which is Zanclean in age. Diunatans is considered to be a stem balaenopterid because it falls outside the Balaenoptera+Megaptera clade, which includes all living rorquals.Its name means "long-distance swimmer", from the Latin diu meaning "long time" or "long distance", and natans, meaning "swimming." The type species is D. luctoretemergo, named after the motto of Zeeland, "Luctor et Emergo" (Latin for "I struggle and I emerge").Diunatans was around the size of the living minke whale. Several distinguishing characteristics can be seen in the skull of Diunatans, including a large occipital condyle and very small nasal bones compared to other rorquals. The tympanic bulla, which encapsulates the middle ear, is also large.Diunatans is the only known fossil rorqual from the North Sea. Many other fossil rorquals have been described, but all are now considered nomina dubia. English paleontologist Richard Owen named Balaenoptera definata, B. emarginata, and B. gibbosa in 1844. In the late 19th century, Belgian paleontologist Pierre-Joseph van Beneden named B. borealina, B. musculoides, B. rostratella, B. sibbaldina, Plesiocetus goropii, Megapteropsis robusta, and Megaptera affinus.


Hari-hari nabe (はりはり鍋) is a type of nabemono made with minke whale meat and mizuna. It is mainly found in the Kansai region, mostly in the Osaka metropolitan area. The name "harihari" is onomatopoeic and refers to the sound of chewing mizuna.

The dish is most often made with fat meat, called irigara (炒り殻).When whaling was popular in Japan, whale meat was cheap and easy to get, and the dish was eaten by the masses. Once commercial whaling ended, whale meat became more difficult to obtain, so pork or duck were frequently substituted in for whale.

Harpoon cannon

A harpoon cannon is a whaling implement developed in the late 19th century and most used in the 20th century. It would be mounted on the bow of a whale catcher, where it could be easily aimed with a wide field of view at the target. Powered by black powder and later, smokeless powder, it would generally fire a large steel harpoon, either solid steel (cold harpoon) or fitted with an exploding black powder, or later, penthrite (PETN) grenade.

Harpoon cannons are still used today in whaling nations, but usually guns of a smaller caliber with the exception of Iceland, which hunts large whales regularly.


Kogia is a genus of toothed whales within the superfamily Physeteroidea comprising two extant and one extinct species: Fossils date to the miocene

Pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps

Dwarf sperm whale, Kogia sima

Kogia pusilla extinct

List of Arctic cetaceans

This is a list of Arctic cetaceans.

List of marine mammal species

Marine mammals comprise over 130 living and recently extinct species in three taxonomic orders. The Society for Marine Mammalogy, an international scientific society, maintains a list of valid species and subspecies, most recently updated in October 2015. This list follows the Society's taxonomy regarding and subspecies.

Conservation status codes listed follow the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (v. 2014.3; data current at 19 January 2015) and are clickable to link to IUCN Red List species pages.

List of whale vocalizations

Whale vocalizations are the sounds made by whales to communicate. The word "song" is used in particular to describe the pattern of regular and predictable sounds made by some species of whales (notably the humpback) in a way that is reminiscent of human singing.

Humans produce sound by expelling air through the larynx. The vocal cords within the larynx open and close as necessary to separate the stream of air into discrete pockets of air. These pockets are shaped by the throat, tongue, and lips into the desired sound.

Cetacean sound production differs markedly from this mechanism. The precise mechanism differs in the two major suborders of cetaceans: the Odontoceti (toothed whales—including dolphins) and the Mysticeti (baleen whales—including the largest whales, such as the blue whale).

Rippon Glacier

Rippon Glacier is a small glacier located in Kemp Land, East Antarctica. It is close east of Seaton Glacier, flowing southward into Edward VIII Ice Shelf.


Rorquals (Balaenopteridae) are the largest group of baleen whales, a family with nine extant species in two genera. They include what is believed to be the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, which can reach 180 tonnes (200 short tons), and the fin whale, which reaches 120 tonnes (130 short tons); even the smallest of the group, the northern minke whale, reaches 9 tonnes (9.9 short tons).

Rorquals take their name from French rorqual, which derives from the Norwegian word røyrkval, meaning "rorqual-whale" (the first element røyr originated from the Old Norse name for this type of whale, reyðr, probably related to the Norse word for "red"). The family name Balaenopteridae is from the type genus, Balaenoptera.

Sea Mammal Research Unit

The Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) is a marine science research organisation in Fife, Scotland. It provides the UK's main science capability in the field of marine mammal biology. It is located at the Gatty Marine Laboratory, part of the University of St Andrews. It was established in 1978, when the Natural Environment Research Council merged its Seals Research Division and Whale Research Unit.SMRU's current strategic science priorities include evaluating the status of marine mammal populations; investigating the importance of marine mammals as components of marine ecosystems; determining the dynamics of marine mammal populations; studying marine mammal social structure and communication; providing the technological basis for observing free-ranging marine mammals and their environment. SMRU also uses the popularity of marine mammals to improve public knowledge about the marine environment.SMRU's activities address the requirements for information about marine mammals identified in the UK and Scottish Sustainable Development and Biodiversity Strategies and the Strategy for Scotland’s Coast and Inshore Waters. It is also relevant to the Joint UK Response to the Review of Marine Nature Conservation, the EU Marine Strategy and the UK Small Cetacean Bycatch Response Strategy.

SMRU is an independent NERC collaborative centre. The funding it receives from NERC is mainly to support the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. SMRU focuses over half of its research effort on cetaceans. In agreement with NERC, SMRU raises the remainder of its funding from other sources. These include the European Union, Defra, Scottish Government and UK Ministry of Defence. It also develops and supplies instrumentation to the science community.

SMRU Consulting Ltd (Europe) was set up in 2006 as the commercial arm of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews and provides consultancy services and advice on marine environmental issues. They have offices in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific.

Notable SMRU Consulting projects includes Marine Mammal Mitigation on the world's first commercial tidal device at Strangford Loch and the development of PAMBuoy, now Decimus - run by St Andrews Instrumentation Ltd.On 1st June 2016, a dead Minke whale washed ashore on the West Sands beach of St. Andrews, near to the SMRU, and was discovered by a dog walker that evening. During low-tide on the 2nd June, staff and students from the SMRU, along with the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme, jointly conducted a necropsy of the whale in view of the public. Noting signature abrasions on the tailstock, and excessive fluid in the lungs, they concluded that the animal had been caught in a fishing trawler's lines, and was drowned by the dragging.

Whaling in Japan

Japanese whaling, in terms of active hunting of these large mammals, is estimated by the Japan Whaling Association to have begun around the 12th century. However, Japanese whaling on an industrial scale began around the 1890s when Japan began to participate in the modern whaling industry, at that time an industry in which many countries participated. Japanese whaling activities have historically extended far outside Japanese territorial waters, even into whale sanctuaries protected by other countries.During the 20th century, Japan was heavily involved in commercial whaling. This continued until the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986. Japan continued to hunt whales using the scientific research provision in the agreement, and Japanese whaling is currently conducted by the Institute of Cetacean Research. This was allowed under IWC rules, although most IWC members oppose it. However, in March 2014 the UN's International Court of Justice ruled that the Japanese whaling program, called "JARPA II", in the Southern Ocean, including inside the Australian Whale Sanctuary, was not in accordance with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, and was not for scientific purposes, as it had claimed. They ordered Japan to cease operations. Despite the court order, Prime Minister Abe quickly called for the resumption of whaling operations. In December 2015, Japan went ahead with their whaling program, renamed "NEWREP-A". On January 15, 2017, a helicopter in the Australian Whale Sanctuary photographed the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru with a freshly-killed minke whale on its deck. Crew members quickly covered the carcass after seeing the helicopter. Their objective is to hunt 3,000 Antarctic minke whales over 10 years, starting with 330 whales during the 2015–16 season. Antarctic minke whale have experienced an apparent decline in population, though the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) indicates that it lacks sufficient data to confer a "threatened" designation on the species of minke whale. In December 2018, Japan announced that it will resume commercial whale hunts in July 2019 within its territorial waters and commercial zones.

These hunts are a source of conflict between pro- and anti-whaling countries and organizations. The UN's International Court of Justice, in addition to other countries, scientists, and environmental organizations consider the Japanese research program to be unnecessary and lacking scientific merit, and describe it as a thinly disguised commercial whaling operation. Japan maintains that annual whaling is sustainable and necessary for scientific study and management of whale stocks, though the Antarctic minke whale populations have declined since the beginning of the JARPA program and those whales killed have shown increasing signs of stress. Japan, echoing Norway's arguments on its own whaling activities, also argues it is entitled to continue whaling because of whaling's place in its cultural heritage. The whale meat from these hunts is sold in shops and restaurants, and is showcased at an annual food festival that, in some cases, features the butchering of a whale for onlookers. A poll in 2014 found that few Japanese people today eat whale meat regularly, and tourists are often reluctant to try it on ethical grounds.

Whaling in Norway

Whaling in Norway involves subsidized hunting of minke whales for use as animal and human food in Norway and for export to Japan. Whale hunting has been a part of Norwegian coastal culture for centuries, and commercial operations targeting the minke whale have occurred since the early 20th century. Some still continue the practice in the modern day.

Whaling in South Africa

The practice of whaling in South Africa gained momentum at the start of the 19th century and ended in 1975. By the mid-1960s, South Africa had depleted their population of fin whales, and subsequently those of sperm and sei whales, and had to resort to hunting the small and less-profitable minke whale. Minke whales continued to be caught and brought to the Durban whaling station from 1968 until 1975. South Africa comprehensively banned whaling in 1979.

Extant Cetacea species

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