Monday, February 16, 2015

Minke Whales

Relatively common and widespread, minkes are small baleen whales that are represented by three species: the northern (true) minke, a circumpolar species of the Northern Hemisphere, the Antarctic minke, a larger circumpolar species of the Southern Hemisphere, and the dwarf minke, a subtropical species of the Southern Hemisphere; regional subspecies of the northern minke have also been described.

Weighing up to 10 tons, minkes may reach 33 feet in length, though most adults do not exceed 26 feet; females are a bit larger than males.  Like other baleen whales, minkes feed on krill or on schools of small fish, often in the company of dolphins and sea birds; while most often observed alone or in small groups, they may congregate at favored feeding areas, especially in northern latitudes.  Unlike the larger baleen whales, northern and Antarctic minkes often remain in colder waters throughout the year.  All minke species breed in summer and gestation is about 10 months in length; since the calf nurses for another 10 months, females generally breed every two years.

Commonly observed on whale-watching excursions, minkes are identified by their relatively small size and by a curved dorsal fin; northern and dwarf species also have white bands on their flippers.  The worldwide population of minkes appears to be stable, having benefited from the decimation of their larger cousins in recent centuries.