Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), are the smallest baleen whale in North American waters and the second-smallest baleen whale worldwide. They can reach lengths up to 33 feet and weigh up to 10 tons. They are also called the little piked whale, lesser rorqual and little finner. They have a very pointed rostrum, which is often the first thing seen when a minke whale surfaces.
Minke whales have the countershading present in many other whale species, with a dark gray back and white underside. The pectoral fins, or flippers, of minkes in the northern hemisphere have a white patch on them.
Minke whales are distributed throughout the world’s oceans in tropical to polar waters. Most migrate seasonally, breeding in warmer areas in the winter and feeding in colder areas during the summer.
Northern minkes are found in the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, from the arctic to the equator, depending on the season. Antarctic minkes are found in waters around Antarctica in the summer and closer to the equator in the winter.
Minke whales reach sexual maturity at 5-8 years. The gestation period is about 10 months, after which the female gives birth to a single calf that is about 8-10 feet long and weighs 750-1,000 pounds. Calves nurse for about 6 months. The lifespan of a minke whale is thought to be about 50 years.
Minke whales make several different types of sounds, which vary with the species and geographic area. Sound types include “clicks,” “grunts,” “belches,” “pulse trains,” “ratchets,” “thumps,” and particularly mystifying sounds called the “boing,” and the “Star-wars vocalization.”
The minke whale population is considered stable, with estimates of about 1,000,000 worldwide. Minkes are still hunted by several countries, including Japan, despite a moratorium on whaling that has been in place since the 1980's.
- American Cetacean Society. 2004.“Minke Whale” (Online), American Cetacean Society. Accessed November 17, 2008.
- IFAW. 2008. ”Common Minke Whale/Antarctic Minke Whale” (Online). International Fund for Animal Welfare. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
- International Whaling Commission. 2008. ”Whale Population Estimates” (Online). International Whaling Commission. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
- NOAA. 2008. ”Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)” (Online). NOAA Office of Protected Resources. Retrieved November 17, 2008.