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Perfectly streamlined

When surfacing, a minke whale’s pointy snout typically breaks the water first at a rather steep angle exposing a pronounced single ridge leading towards the two blowholes. Due to the Minke's small size the rather big and triangular dorsal fin, sitting about 2/3 back along the body axis appears almost simultaneously.  While in continuous forward motion and in a feat of exquisite timing,  the whale’s blowholes open wide to exhale and then inhale and close just centimetres before re-entering the water.

A meter or so below the surface the whale continues its course, repetitively surfacing within 12 – 20 seconds building up its oxygen reserves. Just before the last surfacing it visibly picks up speed and arches its back in order to get into a steeper diving angle, a behaviour we call dorsal arch. In general, the stronger the arch, the steeper the angle, the deeper the whale is going to dive.

The Flipper Band – A Striking Difference

The Minke whale is the smallest representative of the rorqual whales whose most distinctive features are their streamlined bodies, 460 to 720 short baleen plates and 55 – 68 long parallel grooves stretching along the throat towards the umbilicus. The functions of these features are well described in the feeding ecology section.

The streamlined body is black, dark grey or brownish in colour. Behind the dark head is a pale extended patch followed by a number of dark coloured ‘fingers’ reaching into the lighter flank. The rest of the thorax flank as well as the peduncle (the narrow part of the body where the tail attaches)  show the same light greyish colouration. The belly and the undersides of the flukes and pectoral fins are fully white or creamy in colour.

The most obvious feature among the North Atlantic minke whale however is the clearly defined white band on the upper side of each pectoral fin, a characteristic that is less pronounced among the North Pacific minke whales and mostly absent among the Antarctic minke whales. The genetically related dwarf minke whales do carry such a white patch, which even extends into the shoulder region.