August 23, 2014   •  
Bottlenose dolphin

Minke whale

Minke whale illustration

Latin Name:Balaenoptera acutorostrata
Family:Balaenopteridae
Size: 7 – 10 m
Weight: 5 – 10 tons
Group size: Solitary or small groups of 2 – 3 animals


Appearance

  • Torpedo shaped head with sharply pointed snout and central ridge
  • Dark upper body, white belly
  • Sickle shaped fin positioned two-thirds of the way back
  • Blowholes and dorsal fin can be visible simultaneously

Identification

  • Fast, smooth surfacing movement
  • Blow not usually visible
  • Fluke isn’t raised when diving
  • Rolls quite high and arches the back for a deep dive

Distribution

Minke whaleMinke whales are the most commonly seen baleen whale in Scotland. Minke whale sightings are frequent and widespread from May to October; in general sightings increase as the season progresses, peaking in July. Areas thought to be particularly important for minke whales include: The Inner Hebrides, between Coll and the Small Isles; the northern Minch (off the east coast of Lewis), west of the Isle of Skye and the Outer Moray Firth on the East Coast.

Description

Minke whale breachingMinke whales are the smallest of the rorqual whales with a streamlined body and swift, smooth surfacing movement. They have a small sickle shaped dorsal fin (relative to body size) set two-thirds of the way along the back. Body colour appears a uniform dark grey or black with a white lower jaw and under belly. Lighter patches are present on the flanks, forming vertical chevrons; these are most prominent behind the head. Animals in N. Atlantic populations such as those found in Scotland also have a white band on each pectoral fin.

As with all Mysticetes (baleen feeding whales) minke whales have two blowholes. The head is torpedo shaped and pointed with a central ridge running from the blowholes towards the tip of the snout. Throat grooves are present on the lower jaw. The blow is not always visible, can appear rather bushy and disperses quickly.

Behaviour

Minke whale at surfaceMinke whales are usually sighted alone or in small groups of 2 or 3 animals. Occasionally large loose aggregations are sighted, usually associated with foraging. The surfacing pattern is distinct with a swift, high, arched body roll. The dorsal fin and the blowholes can be visible at the same time and the fluke is not raised above the water when the animal dives. Minke whales are known to breach clear out of the water at which point the white bands on the pectoral fins and a lighter stripes on the flanks will be visible.

Minke whales feed principally on sandeels, herring and sprat in British waters. They are often seen feeding in association with seabirds, including kittiwakes and gulls. The whales feed mainly near the surface; lunging at schools of fish and engulfing the prey in their huge mouthes.

Distribution map

Key:

(dark blue) Regular/Common
(light blue) Occasional

Minke whale distribution map

Behaviours

Surface

Minke whale surface

Breach

Minke whale breach

Surface Animation

Video Feature

More Species

Further information

WDC Species Guide • Adopt a dolphin