Friday, 9 September 2011

Species of the month - the Minke Whale!

There have been quite a few sightings recently of Minke Whales off St Abbs head!! With so many minkes spotted here is a bit of info for you all about these magnificant mammals and how to identify them.

Minke whales have a world wide distribution and are found in tropical, temperate and polar seas. They can be spotted from Norway to France and in the Northern North sea, where they can be seen in small numbers mainly from May to October.

Minke whales are the most abundant of the baleen whales as well as the smallest. The males range from 7-9.8m in length and the females are slightly larger from 7.5-11m! The head of a minke whale is slender, triangular and pointed.

The feature to look for to idenitify minke whales is their dorsal fin which is situated 2/3rds along their back and is small, triangular and curved in shape and is often the only feature seen when they are swimming. The head and body are dark in colour from grey to black. Another distinctive feature to look for if your up close or have binoculars are the white markings on each flipper.

The jaw of a baleen whale has approx. 300 short smooth baleen plates used to filter food from the water! The whales often ‘lunge feed’ where they lunge towards their prey at high speeds. Minke whales can reach speeds of 30km/hr! They feed on fish such as herring, cod, capelin, saithe, haddock, whiting and sand eels. In polar regions they feed on plankton or krill.

In the northern hemisphere reproduction takes place from October to March and gestation is about 10 months. Some whales migrate from polar feeding grounds to temperate water breeding grounds. Females normally give birth to a single calf but a very small percent give birth to twins or triplets!

Minke whales can be seen in small groups or as solitary individuals but they may congregate in larger feeding groups where up to 15 minke whales may come together at once! They also sometimes spy hop and breach and some curious individuals may even investigate boats.

During the 1930s in the northern hemisphere and the 1970s in the Antarctic minke whales were major targets of the whaling industry. In 1986 they were given protection from commercial whaling. Despite this Iceland continued their whale fishery until 1993 and in 1998 Norway resumed catching minke whales. Another concern for these large mammals is entanglement in fishing nets and traps. Some minke whales become entangled in fish cage nets.

This cetacean species can be seen quite regularly at the moment feeding off St Abbs Head or passing by. So if your planning a visit to St Abbs over the next few weeks keep an eye out for these incredible creatures.

Photogrpagh shown by Christopher Swann and taken from

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