Like other baleen whales, common minke whales carry out extensive seasonal migrations, moving from wintering areas in the tropics or sub-tropics to higher latitude feeding areas in the summer. The wintering areas are not well described, but the few satellite tag applications that have encompassed the fall migration suggest that common minke whales summer in the Northeast Atlantic and around Iceland, and spend the winter in the southern North Atlantic at latitudes of <30° N (IWC 2014a, Víkingsson and Heide-Jørgensen 2014). Summering areas are well known from past whaling activity and more recent surveys. Major summering areas include the North, Norwegian and Barents Seas, the coastal waters of Iceland, east and west Greenland, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the northeastern coast of the USA. In some areas, common minke whales appear to be extending their summer range northward. There have been recent sightings of common minke whales in areas of Arctic Canada where they were not previously known by local residents (Higdon and Ferguson 2011), and an increase in takes in northern communities of West Greenland (NAMMCO 2012b). Recent Norwegian surveys in the Northeast also suggest a distributional shift to the north. These changes are likely in response to shifts in prey distribution, which themselves may be due to a warming marine climate in the area.
Summer distribution of common minke whales in the North Atlantic, showing sightings and effort from all North Atlantic Sightings surveys, 1987 - 2007, as well as 2007 CODA and SNESSA surveys.
Again like other baleen whales, common minke whales exhibit some sex segregation in their migratory habits, with females arriving earlier in the northern summering areas and moving further north than males (Laidre et al. 2009, Pampoulie et al. 2012). As a result, the catch early in the season and in far northern areas such as West Greenland tends to include a higher proportion of females than males.