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Minke Whales

Minke whale is the name describing two species of whale, the common minke whale, or northern minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and the Antarctic minke whale, or southern minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis). The name "minke whale" derives from the Norwegian word for the species, minkehval. Minke whales are the most abundant whale of their taxonomic suborder, with a conservation status of least concern, and can be found near the surface of all oceans and seas with the exception of polar seas.

Minke whales are baleen whales, meaning that they have a system of many bristle-like baleen plates suspended from their jaws. Minke whales use baleen to facilitate feeding; to eat, each whale opens its mouth underwater to allow surrounding water to enter, then filters water back out of its mouth through baleen so that only small organisms on which the whale feeds remain. Minke whales feed on krill, small fish, and plankton.

Minke whales are among the smallest baleen whales, measuring up to 33 feet in length and typically weighing between seven and a half and 13 tons. Minke whales resemble dolphins in shape. They are purple-black or dark grey in color, with white or light grey undersides and fluked tails, sickle-shaped dorsal fins, two blowholes, 50-70 grooves on their throats, and pointed snouts. Common minke whales have white bands on their flippers.

Though they can remain underwater for 20-25 minutes, minke whales normally dive for 10-12 minutes before seeking air. Underwater, minke whales can travel at speeds of up to 21 miles per hour for short distances, though they normally swim at speeds of between three and 16 miles per hour. Minke whales tend to swim more slowly while feeding, usually at speeds of between one and six miles per hour.

Minke whales are generally solitary, but may travel in small pods of two to three whales. They vocalize to communicate or as echolocation, and can produce sounds of up to 152 decibels. Minke whales communicate using a series of grunts, clicks, thuds, and other sounds. Though they are not highly social animals, minke whales are not shy, and have been known to approach boats.

Minke whales arrive at sexual maturity between the ages of 6 and 8. Minke whales mate most often in the winter and early spring, after which the gestation period is 10 months. Females give birth in warm, shallow waters. Newborn calves nurse for five to 10 months, but may remain with their mothers for a year or longer. It is believed that female minke whales give birth every two years. Minke whales are known to live for over 20 years.

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