They are the second smallest of the baleen whales next to the pygmy right whale.
The dwarf minke whale is considered by some to be a third species of the minke whale although it is still a debatable topic.
Physical Characteristics and Appearance
The minke whale is the second smallest whale in the baleen suborder with the smallest known species being the pygmy right whale.
On average the minke whale will grow to an average length of 22 – 24 ft. long and weigh as much as 11 tons.
As with other baleen whales the female whales will often grow slightly larger than their male counter parts ( about 1-2 feet longer).
In terms of color the minke whale carries a black or dark grey skin tone on its upper body and is white on its bottom half with a large white patch on its flippers.
The body of the minke whale is thickest in the middle and tapers down towards the head and flukes.
When observed from the side the minke whales jaw appears long and narrows as it reaches the end of the beak and the dorsal fin is sickle shaped and located down the far side of its back.
To help with capturing food minke whales are known to have over 350 baleen plates on each side of its mouth with baleen bristles attached for filtering their prey from the water.
Minke whales have baleen plates instead of teeth and capture their prey trapping them in its baleen bristles while allowing water and other debris to pass through.
They are filter feeders and attack their prey by moving forward and seething through the water with their mouths open sucking up prey and other sea sediments.
The baleen bristles in the whale’s mouth often resemble the bristles found on a comb and are used to prevent food from escaping by trapping it in the thin sharp bristles while water moves in and out of the whale’s mouth.
The minke whale can be found traveling throughout the worlds oceans from the tropical climates to the upper and lower polar hemispheres but tends to prefer living in colder climates as opposed to tropical weather.
They are most often found traveling in the northern Atlantic and southern Antarctic oceans and are currently estimated to have a population of over 750,000, which makes them the most abundant species of whale in the baleen whale suborder.
Minke whales are mostly solitary animals often traveling alone or in small pods of 2 – 3 whales.
On occasion they can be found swimming in larger pods during feeding or foraging.
The minke whale can create sounds at over 150 decibel and be heard from many miles away.
These sounds are used to communicate various needs, wants and dangers to other whales within the area.
In addition to using vocal communication minke whales are also known to breach the water and lobtail.
The average gestation period for the minke whale is 10 months and they typically reach sexual maturity between the ages of 6 – 8 at which point they can begin mating with other whales.
Female minke whales will usually produce one offspring every 2 – 3 years and nurse their newborn for 5 – 10 months.
Nursing typically involves feeding the child milk, nurturing it and providing protection against potential threats.
In terms of how long minke whales live for the average lifespan of these marine mammals is 30 – 50 years although some have been known to live for over 60 years.
10 Jaw-dropping minke whale facts
- Because the minke whale is a marine mammal it shares many of the same characteristics of land mammals such as the need to breathe air, being born a warm-blooded animal, feeding its young with milk and giving birth to live baby whales instead of laying eggs.
- The scientific name for the northern/southern minke whale is, “Balaenoptera acutorostrata/Balaenoptera bonaerensis”.
- Measuring in at less than 25 ft. long the minke whale is the second smallest whale within the baleen whale family; although it is estimated that these marine mammals are capable of reaching lengths in excess of 30 ft. on rare occasions. The smallest known baleen whale is the pygmy right whale.
- These marine mammals have been recorded holding their breath for up to 25 minutes during long dives and can reach speeds of up to 24 mph. when startled or trying to escape a predator.
- The minke whale (along with all cetaceans) is a protected species and hunting them in certain countries could result in steep fines and jail time.
- Minke whales make up one of around eighty known species of cetacea.
- With an estimated 10 month gestation period the minke whale has one of the shortest gestation periods of all cetaceans. Some species are known to have gestation periods of up to 17 months!
- When compared to other marine mammals minke whales are fairly abundant making them one of the most popular marine mammals among whale watchers. Their popularity helps bring in millions of dollars each year to various countries that are known for their whale watching excursions.
- Minke whales have very few natural predators, however they are known to occasionally be hunted by packs of killer whales and large sharks.
- An adult minke whale (at 20,000 lbs.) can weigh more than an adult African elephant (which can weigh up to 15,000 lbs.).