The minke whale is the smallest rorqual and one of the smallest baleen whale reaching about 10m in length. They are considered abundant and for this reason the species is listed as of Least Concern by IUCN. Minke whales inhabit all oceans and may occur in both coastal and offshore waters.


Distribution range of minke whales. Source


There exist two species, the common minke whale (Balenoptera acutorostrata) and the Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis), while other subspecies and separate populations such as the dwarf minke whales are also known to occur. Dwarf minke whales are smaller and and are found only in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere are recognised two subspecies, the Atlantic and the Pacific ones.

Dwarf minke whale (source


As most of the rorquals they have a streamlined body, ranging from dark grey to black dorsally and white ventrally. The snout is pointed as suggested by their Latin name “acutorostrata”, and the dorsal fin is falcate and positioned to the second half of their back. Flippers are characterised by the presence of a white band for the populations of the Northern Hemisphere, while they are mostly black for those in the Southern Hemisphere. When taking a deep dive they arch their back without showing their fluke.

Like other baleen whales they perform migrations between high and low latitude to feed and reproduce respectively. They also tend to be solitary with the exception of dwarf minke whales, which seem to be more social and inquisitive than other populations and subspecies of minke whales.

They can breach and are often observed lunge feeding, a technique involving the engulfing of a great amount of water and prey. The water is expelled through the baleen plates, which conversely retain krill and small schooling fishes, the main diet of minke whales. When lunge feeding is occurring close to the surface, the whale can emerge from the water either sideway or ventrally, in what is called lateral and ventral lunge feeding, respectively.

Minke whale in its feeding ground off Iceland


Current threats include commercial and scientific whaling performed by Japan, off the North Pacific, and Norway and Iceland off the North Atlantic. Incidental catches in fishing gears and ship strikes are also known to occur.

In the Azores minke whales are the least observed baleen whales, it may be due also to the fact that they are fast and unpredictable in their movements especially during foraging, turning such species less conspicuous than other baleen whales.

Here we leave you with an example of a minke whale calls 🙂

Spectrogram of a minke whale’s call

Arianna Cecchetti

About Arianna Cecchetti

Arianna is a Marine Biologist and was Main Guide at TERRA AZUL since 2009, and Technical & Scientific Director until 2018. Originally from Italy, she sees herself more as a world citizen. Arianna deserves the very best, and we hope she can come back to share her passion for the sea with us again.

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