A speedy sighting

1.1 Minke whale
While out on whale watching tour last week we were fortunate enough to experience a rare encounter with a Minke whale Balaenoptera bonaerensis, the smallest species of rorqual or baleanopterid whales. The Minke whale, like its close relative the Bryde’s whale, is known to be a shy animal as demonstrated by the individual we encountered. It only allowed us brief glimpses as it surfaced to breathe and then disappeared again, to pop up in another spot in the area. While Minke whales occur in all oceans, they are a rare sighting for Plettenberg Bay! Females of this species average only 9 meters in length, while males are slightly smaller. They are black to grey-blue in colouration on the top of their bodies, while their undersides are white. These animals have a distinctive pointed head, and a tall dorsal fin. While whaling was not as intensive on this species as others, almost 100,000 animals were caught in the Antarctic between 1964 and 1985. Since 1987, a scientific permit has been required for the capture of Minke whales. This species has been classified as Data Deficient by IUCN, and requires further research into the number of species/populations of Minke whales and their respective population numbers.

Interestingly, the Minke whale was named after a Norwegian whaler Meincke, who reputably misidentified a Minke whale (one of the smallest baleen whales) as a Blue whale (the largest baleen whale) and was the butt of many subsequent jokes!

For more reading:
• Horwood, J.W. 1990. Biology and Exploitation of the Minke Whale. CRC Press, Florida.
• Pitman, R.L. and Ensor, P. 2003. Three forms of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Antarctic waters. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 5: 131-139.
• Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N. 2008. Balaenoptera bonaerensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 28 August 2015.

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