Minke Whale

(Ballaenoptera acutorostrata, the common or northern minke whale)
Minke Whale Santa Barbara Channel
Common or Northern Minke Whale - Photo Credit: Bob Perry

The minke whale goes by several names, including the lesser rorqual. They are a complex of multiple species and subspecies and are baleen whales. The common or northern minke whale is the species group that we tend to see off of the coast of California. Both species will take migration routes to the poles in the spring and move towards tropical waters in colder weather. Because of the difference in seasonality between the northern areas and southern areas, these species rarely mix.

The common minke whale is one of the smallest members of the group of baleen whales. In the Pacific Ocean, they are typically 20 to 24 feet, with males being slightly smaller than females. The North Pacific whales are typically smaller than those found in the North Atlantic Ocean.

The minke whales are generally dark grey in color on the top or dorsal part of their bodies, while they are white on the bottom part of their bodies. Their lower jaw is dark grey on both sides, and it projects past the upper jaw. They can have a white stripe near the corner of their right lower jaw, and some have pale streaks of color coming from their blowholes. They have other markings, including a light grey chevron-shape between the pectoral fins.

Minke whales have 230 to 360 pairs of baleen plates, and they are roughly 4 by 8 inches in size. They have a white fringe on the creamy white plates, and some specimens found in the North Pacific have a thin black band on the outer part of the baleen plates.

Minke whales found in the North Pacific tend to feed on krill and small fish found in schools, such as Pacific herring and mackerel. Some also feed on squid. In the Monterey Bay area of the Pacific Ocean, minke whales tend to feed on baitfish like northern anchovy.

When you spot a minke whale in the water, you are usually just going to find one in an area at a time. They tend to live as lone whales, although some pairs or trios, such as cow-calf pairs have been identified. They exhibit a variety of behaviors, with some noted in occasionally breach. In some instances, they completely clear their bodies out of the water. Depending on the area, minke whales may investigate boats or divers that come near them, or they may avoid them as much as possible.