What is a minke whale? The minke (pronounced min-ki) whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) is a baleen whale. This means it is a filter feeder, straining tiny fish or plankton from the water by using hundreds of horny baleen plates that hang from its upper jaws. These have bristly edges which mesh to form a filter. The minke whale is the smallest of the seven great whales species. It is sometimes seen on the television news, as some Japanese whalers have “scientific” permits to hunt this species in Antarctic waters. Although the Japanese are allowed to take small numbers of minke whales for such purposes, the whale meat is later sold for human consumption in Japan. Footage of an adult and a calf being hauled into a Japanese whaling vessel in early 2008 caused a public outcry.
What does it look like? This whale has a narrow and sharply triangular head on which there is a single raised ridge. The colouring is dark bluish-grey above. The pleated throat and other underparts are lighter and the average length is eight metres. Minke whales arch their backs while diving but do not raise their tail flukes. Their blows are about two to three metres high.
Where does it live? Although it is thought to be abundant in all the world’s oceans, the minke whale is only occasionally seen by boaters off WA’s coast. Because of their smaller size, in the past it was not economical to harvest minke whales while other baleen whale species were still abundant. Because of this, minkes still occur in large numbers and are widespread from polar areas to the tropics, although they are much less common in tropical areas. The world population could number around 400,000. The species was traditionally hunted in places such as Canada, Scandinavia and Japan. They are now protected by international law.
What does it eat and how? Like blue whales and humpbacks, minke whales have pleated throats that allow them to take in large quantities of water from which they strain small shoaling fish or plankton.
Behaviour: Minke whales are found alone or in groups of two or three. They are inquisitive and often breach and engage in spy hopping.
Breeding and caring for young: Females give birth to a single calf about 2.5 metres long in winter.
Protecting the minke whale: Individual minke whales have been known strand, but there are very few records of such strandings along the Western Australian coast. If you find a stranded or sick and injured whale, please immediately call the Department of Environment and Conservation.
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