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General Characteristics

The common minke whale is the smallest species of the rorqual family, also called balaenopterid family. It is also the most common of all baleen whale species.

KAFagerheim two Minke Norway kaf201408128070

The uncommon sight of two common minke whales off Norway. Minke whales are most often seen alone in the North East Atlantic. Photo: K.A. Fagerheim, Institute of Marine Research, Norway.

Average size

8-10 m long, 9 tonnes in the Northern Hemisphere. Females are larger.

Lifespan

Up to 60 years.

Productivity

One calf probably every year from 7-8 years of age.

Migration

No regular north-south migration, but shifts in latitudinal abundance with season.

Feeding

Lunge-gulping' on euphausiids and a variety of shoaling fish including herring, capelin and cod.

Names

Latin: Balaenoptera acutorostrata Lacépède, 1804

Faroese: Sildreki
Greenlandic: Tikaagullik
Icelandic: Hrefna
Norwegian: Vågehval

English: Common minke whale, Northern minke whale, lesser rorqual, little piked whale, pikehead, sharp headed finner 
French: Petit rorqual, baleine à bec, baleinoptère ou rorqual à museau pointu
Spanish: Ballena minke, rorcual menor, rorcual enano
Danish: Vågehval, sildepisker

At sea

The body is relatively robust, especially compared to the other rorquals. The head is very acute in shape and the rostrum fairly flat, which gives the nickname "pikehead". The dorsal fin is relatively tall and falcate, located two-thirds back along the body.

Common minke whales are black or dark grey dorsally and white on the ventral side, with a pale chevron on the back behind the head extending down onto the flanks. A transverse white band on the flippers is characteristic for the species in the Northern Hemisphere. The blow is low, rising only to about 2–3m, very inconspicuous and rarely visible in the North Atlantic. Common minke whales do not raise their flukes when diving, although the back is well arched. Many of them are very inquisitive and can approach vessels. They can be quite fast swimmers.

From a distance, common minke whales can be confused with bottlenose whales (and some other beaked whales), but the latter have bulbous heads and defined beaks, while the common minke's head is sharply triangular. Also in the North Atlantic, common minke whales are usually solitary, while beaked whales appear generally in groups.

 

MRI hrefnabw rostrum iPhoto: Marine Research Institute, Iceland

Minke NAMMCOPhoto: NAMMCO archive

 See common minke whales swimming off Kinsale, Ireland

Listen to their calls off Eastern Canada (NOAA)

Size

Males and females are very similar in their general appearance, but females are somewhat larger than males. They attain a length of 8–9 m and a weight of about 8 tonnes in the North Atlantic, while they are slightly larger in the southern hemisphere.

Characteristics

The very characteristic head is the extremely narrow, pointed and triangular rostrum, with a single prominent head ridge. The tail flukes are broad, with a median notch. The flippers are slim and pointed.

As a rorqual, the common minke whale bears 50 to 70 ventral grooves along the ventral side of the body, running from the underside of the lower jaw to just beyond the flippers, ending anterior to the navel.

As a baleen whale, the common minke whale has a series of 230–360 baleen plates hanging on each side of the upper jaw, which measure up to 30 cm in length and 12 cm in width at the base. The plates are mostly yellowish white, with fine, white bristles.