As in other minke whales, the head is pointed, and there is a prominent median ridge. The dorsal fin, situated about two-thirds of the way back from the snout tip, is moderately tall and falcate. There are 50-70 short throat pleats, which extend just past the flippers and 200-300 pairs of baleen plates, most of which are black. Some of the anterior plates are white (more white on the right side).
Antarctic minke whales are dark gray dorsally and white ventrally, with streaks and/or lobes of grayish shades on the lateral surface. Some of the streaks may extend onto the back behind the head. The distinctive white band on the flipper of Northern Hemisphere and dwarf minke whales is not usually present on Antarctic whales, although the flippers are not dark in color. The blow is generally quite conspicuous in Antarctic waters, but can be more faint at times.
Adult Antarctic minke whales average about 8.5-9.0 m, and can reach 10.7 m in length. Length at birth is about 2.8 m. Maximum body weight is about 14 tons.
Can be Confused With
Antarctic minke whales are generally easy to distinguish from the larger rorquals that occur in the Antarctic (blue, fin, and sei whales), due to their small size, pointed head, specifics of the color pattern, and quicker movements. Although they are generally about 2 m longer, they can be difficult to distinguish from dwarf minke whales (B. acutorostra un-named subspecies). The best feature is the lack of distinct white flipper band on Antarctic minkes.
Antarctic minke whales occur in coastal and offshore areas of the Southern Hemisphere, and are found from at least 10°S south to the ice edges. They tend to be more polar than common minke whales, and most spend their summers in waters around the Antarctic continent.
Ecology and Behavior
Although groups elsewhere are generally much smaller, aggregations in the Antarctic may contain hundreds of animals. Whales migrate to the Antarctic for the summer for feeding, and to more moderate climates in the winter for breeding. Although they are not as aerially active as some other whales, minke whales do occasionally breach and spyhop.
Antarctic minke whales exhibit similar life history parameters to those of Northern Hemisphere minkes. Attainment of sexual maturity is attained at ages of 7-8 years for females and 8 years in males.
Feeding and Prey
Antarctic minke whales eat mostly krill, although they do occasionally feed on small schooling fishes. They are lunge feeders.
Threats and Status
Large numbers of minke whales (probably mostly Antarctic minkes) have been killed in Antarctic waters in the past 100 years or so. Japan’s so-called “scientific whaling” focuses mainly on this species, which is still quite abundant in Southern Hemisphere waters, with several hundred thousand animals thought to remain.
Minke whales are currently listed as “Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent” (IUCN) and “Not Listed” (ESA).
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