Smallest of the Rorqual whales and second smallest of the Baleen whale these whales are summer visitors to the Hebrides. They reach lengths of 7-10 metres, and can be identified by their long dark grey back and small hooked dorsal fin situated about 2/3rds of the way along the back. Unlike some other whales it is very unusual to see a Minke Whale blow and you will never see them raise their tail fluke out of the water. The body of a Minke Whale is streamlined and dark grey on the back with a pale underneath and white bands on the top of their pectoral (side) fins, and like all the other baleen whales they have 2 blow-holes.
Minke Whales can be seen around the Hebrides from April until September and visit our waters to feed. They feed on a range of fish species, including sandeels and herring, they will also feed on some plankton. Minke Whales feed by engulfing large volumes of both water and prey, they then use their baleen plates as a sieve which traps the food as they push the water out of their mouth. A Minke whale will have on average 230-360 baleen plates on either side of the upper jaw, these are made of keratin, the same substance as human hair and nails and are used as a sieve during feeding. Due to this method of feeding, small particles of food get trapped in the baleen plates and can cause you to smell the whale before you see it. With breath that smells like a combination of fish and rotting cabbage, it's easy to see why Minke Whales have been nicknamed 'stinky minkes'.
Minke Whales tend to surface between 3 and 8 times before they go for a longer foraging dive. When they surface just before the longer dive you will often notice the back looks more arched and more of the animal behind the dorsal fin is visible. They tend to spend 3-8 minutes underwater during a longer dive, however the record is 20 minutes, and they can travel at 15 mph. Minke Whales tend to be solitary, however when feeding it is possible to see more together and a mother and calf will stay relatively close for about 2 years.
Despite being one of the most widely distributed whales and being naturally inquisitive it is still unclear exactly where the whales we see spend the winter months. However it is suggested that they go to the warmer tropical waters, which will be their breeding grounds. However they won't go much further South than the equator. This is because it has recently been proven that there are two distinct Minke Whale species, the common Minke Whale, found in the Northern Hemisphere and the Antarctic or Southern Minke Whale. Similar to our Minke Whale, the Antarctic Minke Whale spends the winter months in the tropical waters around the equator and then heads for cooler water during the summer. The common Minke Whale has now also been separated into 3 subspecies, the North Atlantic, the North Pacific and the Dwarf Minke Whale of which the North Atlantic is the most numerous with an estimate of over 100,000 individuals in the north-eastern Atlantic.
Minke Whale numbers around the Hebrides have been seen to decrease over the last few years, although there is no definite proof it is likely to be caused by a decrease in food availability. Having said that the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has now catalogued over 65 individual whales that have visited the Hebridean waters. Then have done this using pictures of the whale's dorsal fins that often have identifiable marks, such as notches and scars. So if you are lucky enough to get pictures of Minke Whales during your holidays to the Hebrides please contact the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, they may be able to identify the individual for you, or even if not you will still be helping with vital research.