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50 Females but Only 1 Male

It is suggested that minke whales segregate by sex and age in their feeding grounds where a) females generally arrive earlier and migrate further north in polar waters than males, and b) females and juveniles prefer coastal waters but the latter may remain further south while the males remain in more open seas.

Our studies support these findings as adult females seem to be dominant in the highly coastal waters of the St. Lawrence Estuary, over 800 km from the open Atlantic. Mainly during surface feeding manoeuvres the sex of 50 known individuals have been identified as females but only one has yet been identified as a male so far. The records on dead minke whales found at shorelines within the St. Lawrence Gulf further support such segregation.

Tiny babies all alone

To encounter a mother and calf pair within the study area is very rare. Although a few might arrive in the area together, by the time whale watchers and researcher head out to sea, they are already independent from each other. It is believed that minke whale calves are weaned very early at already 4 - 6 months of age. Only once, at the end of May 2003, the well-known female Requin was photographed swimming with a tiny calf at her side. But only a few weeks later we observed the two again swimming fully independently from each other.

Tiny minke whales, we nickname them “baby-minkes” usually show very erratic surfacing patterns and are therefore very difficult to study or even photograph. In accordance with ORES values and to minimize stress on these young animals, we do not actively approach them. Thus the photo-documentation of their sparse identification features is highly limited especially as they seem to be born without any dorsal edge marks. However, today, as our experience in the field has considerably grown, more and more baby-minkes born during the past winter have been documented or even identified.

Baby-minkes, juveniles, adults and giant adults

Although visual size estimation is highly difficult, small juveniles up to a few years of age are recognizable. As some acquire nicks at a very early stage their life history can be well documented.

For instance, Shawne and Little EL (first seen in 2001), and Hibou, Funambule and Chap-Chap (2003) were at that time probably in their first or second year of their lives. It is believed that minke whales mature at about six years of age. Therefore these minkes are fully grown today and might have already given birth to their own calves.

Based on the long-term photo-identification program and visual size estimation it appears that most minke whales visiting the Estuary are fully grown adults. Most of them are average in size. Others are visually bigger. Not only in length but especially in body volume which makes them extremely impressive.

Giant minke whales are Requin (1995), El International (1995), and Suss (1996). On the other hand there are adults, which appear to be small.   Ondine, first seen in 1996, is a smaller-than-average adult Minke.  Several times on sighting Ondine from a distance,  she was considered to be a juvenile at first glance until closer observation exposed her true idenity,