Sightings data are very useful to researchers because it can provide insights into animal presence and distribution. This information is particularly important for uncommon species such as the minke whale in the Northeast Pacific (in other parts of the world the minke whale is anything but uncommon!).
If you read "About Pacific minke whales" you will know that there are very few minke whales in the NE Pacific. The small population size raises a number of interesting questions. Minke whales may be rare (in an ecological rather than a culinary sense). Why aren’t minke whale numbers higher? This is unexpected given the decline of closely related blue, fin and humpback whales? We hypothesize that minke whales are part of a different ecological community and given their small body size and other associated morphological characteristics, are not simply “small blue whales”. So, comparing minke whales with closely related baleen whale species that are rare due to over-exploitation might be instructive.
We also hypothesise that the CA-OR-WA stock includes the coastal waters of British Columbia, Southeast Alaska, Gulf of Alaska and Eastern Aleutian Islands. Analyses of sighting data, along with genetic and telemetry studies are ways in which this question can be addressed.
There are a number of groups in British Columbia and Washington that collect sighting data and we encourage you to submit your sightings to these groups. As scientists we are able to access these important databases to help us investigate key questions about minke whales.
What information should I report?
Firstly are you sure you saw a minke whale? Here are some tips to identifying minke whales.
- Small whale 25-30ft
- Inconspicuous blow (sometimes seen in cold conditions)
- Long slender shape
- Sharply pointed snout and sharp ridge on rostrum
- Small sickle-shaped dorsal fin positioned 2/3rds down the back towards the tail
- White bands on flippers
- Does not lift its tail from the water on diving
- Typical behaviour is 3-5 surfacings in short succession followed by a longer dive of 4-10 minutes
OK, you have determined that you have indeed been lucky enough to see a minke (cue mini dance-party for being so lucky!), now what details should you report?
- Where did you see the whale, if you have a latitude and longitude that is even better.
- When did you see the whale?
- How many whales did you see?
- How big was the whale (and remember that minkes can look deceptively small....
as a general rule minkes are ~ 9ft at birth and ~18 ft when weaned).
- Did you notice anything interesting about the whale? did it seem to be traveling or feeding?
- Where there birds around the whale?
- Did you get a photo of the whale?