Northern Minke Whale – (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
The Minke whale is the second smallest baleen whale in the world, after the pygmy right whale. Once sexually mature the females average about 8m in length, and the male is smaller, like all baleen whales, at only 6.9m. Baleen whales have 2 blow holes as they didn’t lose one by evolving echolocation like their toothed-whale cousins. Their colouring is dark grey/black with a white underside, and a white band on each pectoral fin. Dorsal fins tend to be hooked, and their bodies are incredibly smooth, with a pointed rostrum, as they must be every streamlined to be so fast.
Minke whales have a grooved throat, with 50-70 folds that enable them to scoop up huge amounts of water filled with food. They then use their baleen plates to filter out the water, leaving them with a mouthful of krill and small fish such as herring, capelin, sand eels and young cod. Whilst they are feeding they travel slowly, but can travel up to 24mph, possibly more, as they are often hunted by orca who are famously fast.
Minke whales are not especially social, we mostly see them alone, though some chose to have a partner or live in a group of three, but mostly we see them together only because they happen to be feeding in the same area. That said, as with all whales, we don’t really know much about them, the ocean is a huge environment, and all cetaceans are clever. Maybe they are communicating in a way we just don’t recognise yet. It is very important to protect them, and the whole ocean environment, because we don’t know how the whole ecosystem works.
Minke whales mature faster than other whales, at about 3 years, with the baby having a 10month gestation period. When they are born they are just under 3metres long, and spend another 10months feeding from their mother. They are thought to breed every 2 years, and live between 30 and 50years, one of the shorter lived whales, as such it can take a long time to replenish numbers lost. However, thankfully, at the moment, they are marked as Least Concerned on the Red List.
Minke whales were never originally hunted due to their small size, but as the massacre of the ocean giants meant numbers dropped humans resorted to hunting these comparatively smaller mammals. Now, in Iceland, it is sadly legal to hunt these amazing animals, despite 80% of their meat being wasted, less than 2% of the population eating whale meat regularly, and the meat actually being toxic to humans due to the high levels of mercury. As well as not being traditionally caught in Iceland they were actually considered to be protectors sent by god.
Whilst you are in Iceland please do not buy whale meat, these minke whales are hunted right next to the area we ethically enjoy watching them. It’s possible that the beautiful creature you see one day could end up on your plate another, please sign the petition here to help end whaling in Iceland.
Learn how to spot these amazing creatures with our guide viewable here.