The common minke whale (aka northern minke whale) is a widely distributed whale that can be found traveling throughout the northern hemisphere.
These marine mammals make up one of three types of recorded whale within the minke whale family.
The others include the Antarctic or southern minke whale and the dwarf minke whale.
For the purpose of this article well focus exclusively on the common minke whale and provide information on its appearance, habitat, social structure, breeding habits and more.
Physical Characteristics and Appearance
As part of the baleen whale suborder these whale possess baleen plates instead of teeth to capture their food.
When fully matured the common minke whale can reach lengths of up to 30 ft. long, although most males measure in at 21 – 23 ft. long, with females growing approximately two feet longer than their male counterparts.
The average weight of these whale can vary anywhere from 17,500 – 28,500 lbs.
They have a dark gray colored upper body with a white under body and white markings on their flippers.
They also have a V-shaped body with a dorsal located down the far side of its back.
Diet and Hunting Methods
Theses are known for consuming a diet consisting of various fish such as capelin, salmon and cod as well as eel, krill, various copepods and euphausiids.
As members of the baleen whale family the common minke whale feeds using a filter feeding technique and obtains its prey by filtering it from the water using its baleen bristles.
These fine bristles allow the whale to travel small schools of fish or krill in its mouth while allowing water to pass through the gaps in the bristles.
Although they feed on small prey the types of prey they consume as part of their diet can vary depending on where they are located and what types of food are abundant in their area.
Unlike some other baleen whales the common minke whale prefers to hunt alone and feeding in groups is rarely observed.
Hunting methods generally involve circling groups of prey in order to herd them into a dense group so that they can be lunged at and easily consumed and using entrapment to misdirect and trap their prey so that it cannot escape.
In some instances head slapping has also been observed where the whale lifts its head above the water then quickly descends slapping its head against the surface of the water and causing a huge thud and splash.
Habitat and Migration
As the name suggest the common minke whale can be found traveling through all of the worlds major oceans throughout the northern hemisphere from the tropical climates to the northern Polar Regions.
They can be found in both coastal and offshore waters and some groups may choose to inhibit a single location all year round rather than migrate back and forth.
These whales tend to prefer staying in cooler climates during the summer time and warmer climates during the winter, however as stated earlier they can also be found in tropical waters.
Due to differences in seasonal climates between the northern and southern hemispheres it is extremely unlikely that the northern minke whale and southern minke whales will ever meet during migration periods.
Social Structure & Communication
Common minke whales are generally solo marine mammals and prefer to travel alone, however in some cases they may be accompanied by one or two other whales.
During small gatherings groups may expand to 4 – 10 minke whales but these occurrences are rare.
When it comes to vocalization these marine mammals communicate using loud low frequency pulses and boings.
Both the frequency and length of their vocalization can vary depending on the species and where they are located.
In fact the North Atlantic, North Pacific and southern minke whales are all known to communicate at different frequencies and at different tones, bursts or pulses.
Other than using vocal cues these marine mammals have also been observed spyhopping and breaching the water.
Reproduction and Lifespan
The average gestation period for these whales is approximately 10 months.
Baby whales may be nursed by their mother for up to 2 years, although most whales will stop nursing after 4 months to 1 year, but may continue to stay alongside their mother for 2 years or so.
Sexual maturity for these whales usually occurs between the ages of 6 – 8.
While fertile female whales generally give birth to a single calf once every 1 – 3 years.
The common minke whale is believed to have an average lifespan of around 50 years.
Note: In rare cases there have been confirmed observations of hybrid minke whales which occurs when a common minke whale mates with a North Atlantic minke whale.
During the whaling era it is estimated that over 100,000 minke whales were killed since the 1900’s.
Prior to the 20th century minke whales were less of a focus among whalers and poachers due to their small size, however they became more popular as larger whale stocks became harder to find due to excessive whaling.
During this time these marine mammals faced threats from whalers looking to sell their meat, blubber and oil for use in various ingredients, oils and cooking chemicals.
Today however these marine mammals are a protected species, however they may still be hunted and killed in certain countries that do not place strict laws, restrictions or fines on these hunting activities.
In addition to being hunted for their meat minke whales may face threats from accidentally getting caught in large fishing nets where they end up drowning due to their inability to rise to the surface and get oxygen.
Minke whales are known to face attacks from groups of killer whales in areas where these predators are known to hunt other marine mammals.
Numerous cases of minke whale meat being found in a killer whales stomach have been confirmed along with injuries and scars being observed on minke whales that have escaped being killed.
There are also a number of cases where dead minke whales have been spotted being eaten by groups of sharks which may indicate that they are either hunted by sharks or the sharks wait for the whale to die and then consume its carcass.