These whales can be found traveling throughout the southern hemisphere and large populations are often seen near Antarctica during the warmer summer months.
They are a solitary species that often prefer traveling alone or in small groups, but may occasionally gather into larger groups during certain social/feeding times.
The Antarctic minke whale is also closely related to the northern or common minke whale and dwarf minke whale, which is considered a possible third species of minke whale.
As a whole these marine mammals are one of over 80 known species of cetacea (cetaceans include whales, dolphins and porpoises) currently in existence.
Physical Characteristics and Appearance
When fully matured the Antarctic minke whale can reach lengths of up to 35 ft. and weigh 19,000 lbs, with females typically growing several feet larger than their male counterparts.
These whales have a dark gray skin tone with a white under-body and white edged flippers.
The body is long, v shaped and streamlined to minimize water resistance when swimming.
They also have long flippers for turning and navigation, and a pointed dorsal fin which is located about 3/2 down its back.
Diet and Hunting Methods
The primary diet for the Antarctic minke whale consists of krill.
They may also coincidentally swallow other prey while hunting for krill.
Because these marine mammals are part of the baleen whale suborder they do not possess teeth.
Instead they are equipped with baleen plates that have bristles attached.
In order to capture their food these whales use a method known as filter feeding, which involves swimming towards a group of prey with their mouth open and using their baleen to capture and trap their prey.
The bristles act like a filter by trapping the prey in their mouth while allowing water to easily pass in and out.
Once they’ve captured enough prey they will then swallow their food whole.
During deep dives these marine mammals can hold their breath for up to 25 minutes before rising to the surface for fresh air.
Habitat and Migration
The Antarctic/Southern minke whale can be found traveling throughout all of the major oceans in the southern hemisphere.
In many cases these whales tend to prefer living in cool/cold climates rather than in tropical waters.
At times however these whales may pass over the southern hemisphere and temporarily move into the northern hemisphere.
As the name suggests these whale can primarily be found traveling in and around the Antarctic waters; however during the colder winter months these whales may migrate northward towards more tropical environments in order to avoid the freezing climates.
Social Structure and Communication
These whales are largely solitary marine animals that either prefer to travel along or with 1 – 2 other whales, however at times they may be found congregating into larger groups when feeding or participating in other activities.
During aggregations as many as 60 minke whales may be found huddled together to participate in certain social events.
When it comes to communication among this species most vocal sounds involve the use of loud low-pitched whines and moans.
On occasion these marine mammals may also be spotted spyhopping or breaching the water.
Spyhopping involves lifting their head above the surface of the water in order to get a better visual of their surroundings and may be used to look for predators, other whales or food.
Breaching is when a large baleen whale such as the minke whale lifts at least 40% of its body above the water and than slams back down into the water causing a large splash and thud.
While the purpose of the minke whales breaching habits is unknown in other whale species it is known to be used as a way to show health and vitality during mating periods and as a way to communicate with other whales since the loud splash can be heard under the water by other whales that aren’t near the surface.
Reproduction and Lifespan
The average gestation period for the Antarctic minke whale is 10 – 11 months.
After birth the mother will typically nurse her child by providing it with milk for the first 6 months to 2 years of its life.
Sexual maturity is reached between 6 – 9 years, at which point they may begin mating and bearing their own offspring.
The average estimated lifespan for these whales is around 50 years.
Historically the minke whale has faced threats from poachers and whalers during the whaling era.
Prior to the 1900’s these marine mammals were relatively safe from whalers due to their small size, however as other larger species began to decline in numbers more and more whalers took to hunting the minke whale as a way to continue their collection of whale blubber and meat.
Although the whaling era has ended these marine mammals still face threats from poachers that are interested in selling their meat in markets where whale meat is still being consumed.
Other threats minke whales face include collisions with large boats and ships, accidental catches in fishing equipment which can cause the whale to drown by preventing it from being able to surface, artificial noise pollution which can interfere with their own communication and waste/chemical pollution.
When it comes to predators the Antarctic mine whale has very few.
In fact their only main predator is the killer whale.
Observations of scarring and tooth marks on minke whales suggests fights that they’ve had with groups or packs of killer whales in the wild.
The stomach contents of killer whales have also shown that they have and do consume minke whale meat.
Several instances also lead to the conclusion that they may be hunted by sharks as several cases of sharks consuming the carcass of dead minke whales has been observed.
While they may face occasional attacks from predators in the wild humans still remain the primary hunters of minke whales.