Facts about the Minke Whale

The minke whale, or lesser rorqual, refers to two subspecies of marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whales. Scientifically called Balaenoptera acutorostrata, approximately 1 million minke whales live in oceans around the world, particularly in open waters between the poles and the tropics. They get their name from then 18th-century Norwegian whaler named Meincke who broke rules about the size and kinds of whales he was permitted to hunt. Like other baleen whales, minke have set dieting, behavioral and reproductive characteristics.

Physical and Anatomical Descriptions

Two subspecies of minke whales include the common minke whale, or dwarf minke whale, and the Antarctic minke whale. Common minke whales live in the North Atlantic and parts of the north Pacific Ocean and measure approximately 16 feet. The larger Antarctic minke whale reside in the southern Atlantic Ocean and southern Pacific Oceans. They reach approximately 32 feet in adulthood. Minke whales weigh between 5-14 tons. Their smooth skin appears in black, brown, gray and white, and they have pointed heads and a white band on their flippers. Minke whales swim up to 20 miles per hour.

Mating and Reproduction

Minke whales reach sexual maturity at seven years old. They mate from late winter to early spring, usually between August-October in the southern oceans. Female whales carry their babies for 10 months, with calves being born the next winter in warm, shallow waters. Antarctic Connection says a newborn calf is 8 feet long and weighs approximately 750 lbs. Newborns swim to the surface within 10 second of their birth to take their first whiffs of air. Mothers help their young reach the surface, guiding them with their flippers. The American Cetacean Society says calves nurse for about six months. Young whales stay with their mothers for two years and live for about 50 years.

Diet and Nutrition

Minke whales are filter-feeding carnivores, meaning they filter ocean water in order to get the nutrients from it. They don’t have teeth so they cannot bite down on food. Instead, they have tiny, teeth-like bristles in their mouth used to filter food particles. Minke whales diet consists of small creatures like krill, plankton, small fish like cod and herring, crabs and crustaceans. They feed close to polar ice packs, near bays and estuaries.

Predators

Because minke whales are smaller than those familiar to most people, they are prey for larger sea creatures like sharks and killer whales. Humans have also become a threat to their populations. According to Antarctic Connection, they were ignored by commercial fishermen in favor of larger whales. As larger whales began appearing in threatened and endangered species list, commercial fishermen in some countries, including the United States, Norway and Japan, have begun hunting them.

Minke whales, like many other whales, live with human threats at the present time, in addition to threats from larger sea creatures. They have similar mating, reproduction and eating patterns as other whales. Though they may be smaller than other whales, minke whales are still some of the biggest mammals on the face of the earth and have a place in the marine environment.