Minke Whales

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Spotting Minke Whales

The minke whale is the smallest and most abundant of the rorquals – baleen whales with fibrous hair-like baleen plates instead of teeth and pleated throats used for gulp feeding. They are much smaller than other whales found in British waters, averaging in length between 7-10 metres, with females growing slightly larger than the males. They have a narrow, pointed triangular head with a central ridge. The dorsal fin is relatively tall, sickle-shaped, and situated nearly two-thirds of the way along the back which can be seen at the same time as their 2-3 metre high blow. The head and body are dark grey to black but with lighter grey on the flanks, and distinctive white “armbands” on the pectoral fins. In recent years we have seen a notable increase of sightings of minke whales in the waters near Padstow, with the peak time for seeing them around April and early May, although they can be seen throughout the year.

minke whale sightings in Cornwall under the water close up
Dwarf Minke whale breaching water


Minke whales are frequently found as solitary animals, or occasionally in groups of two or three, although they may congregate in larger numbers in areas where food is abundant. Although minke whales can be shy to approach, some individuals are inquisitive and may investigate boats. They sometimes spyhop and breach; lifting the front end of their body high out of the water before splashing down. Minkes will gulp feed on a variety of fish species by opening their mouths wide and expanding their pleated throats to engulf large volumes of water which gets sieved out through their baleen to leave the fish to be swallowed whole. Fish, such as herring, cod, sandeel, haddock, and whiting are all part of the minke whale diet, along with plankton if it is present in the water.

Interesting facts about Minke Whales:


They are thought to live between 40-50 years old


They are relatively fast swimmers, swimming up to about 20mph


They can dive for up to 20 minutes at a time


Due to their diet, they are nicknamed “Stinky Minkes” as when they exhale at the surface, their fishy breath can be smelt from some distance away!

Dwarf Minke Whale


Minke whales have been targeted for whaling historically in the UK, and still are now in countries like Iceland, Greenland, Norway and Japan. They can also fall victim to entanglement in fishing gear and plastic pollution.

That Face… The first time you see a Puffin…