information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.
Only coastal and marine records shown



The Minke is a medium sized whale, sleek in shape, with a very pointed head. It is dark grey to black in colour with a white underside and has white patches behind the head and a bright white band on the outer part of the flippers. Adults reach lengths of 6.75-10 m long and 5 -10 tonnes in weight. The new born calf is ca 2.5 m long and weighs ca 350 kg. There are 30-70 throat grooves that always end before the naval (umbilicus). The dorsal fin is sickle-shaped, and about two-thirds of the way back from the tip of the animal's snout. The tail flukes are a quarter of the animal's length in width, and are not shown when diving. There are 230-360 baleen plates, 12 -20 cm long, in each half of the upper jaw, which are yellowish-white at the front to grey-brown at the rear.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Recorded along the Atlantic coasts of Britain and Ireland, and the northern and central North Sea, south to the Yorkshire coast. Rare in the English Channel, with localised records in the Irish Sea.

Global distribution

Recorded throughout the North Atlantic, Norwegian coast, the White Sea, Iceland, the Faeroes, the northern North Sea, Skagerrak. Occasionally in the Baltic Sea, north African coast, western Mediterranean, west Greenland and the east coast of America.


An open water species, most often seen in coastal and inshore areas but sometimes enters inlets, bays or estuaries.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Dark grey-black back with a curved dorsal fins and a white band on the outer part of the flippers.
  • 30-70 throat grooves present, ending before the naval.
  • A double blow hole and short baleen plates present.
  • Very pointed head.
  • Medium size; up to 10 m long.

Additional information

The blow is very weak and can been seen at the same time as the dorsal fin appears. Spyhopping and breaching are common for this species, which forms small groups of up to 3 individuals. The Minke can remain submerged for up to 20 minutes (Kinze, 2002).

This whale could be confused at a distance with the Sei whale and the Bryde's whale as they are relatively the same size, however the weak blow of the Minke whale and dorsal fin appearing at the same time as the blow is characteristic. At close range the white bands on the Minke's flippers are diagnostic (Jefferson et al., 1993; Kinze, 2002).

Baleen whales are included in group species action plan under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (Anon, 1999v). All baleen whales are protected under schedule 5 in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. All whales are listed on Annex A of EU Council Regulation 338/97 and therefore treated by the EU as if they are on CITES, Appendix I, thus prohibiting their commercial trade (Anon, 1999v). Whales are listed in Appendix I of CITES, Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annex IV of the EC Habitats Directive (Anon, 1999v).

Listed by

Further information sources

Search on:


  1. Bruyns, W.F.J.M., 1971. Field guide of whales and dolphins. Amsterdam: Publishing Company Tors.

  2. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  3. Jefferson, T.A., Leatherwood, S. & Webber, M.A., 1994. FAO species identification guide. Marine mammals of the world. Rome: United Nations Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

  4. Kinze, C. C., 2002. Photographic Guide to the Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  5. Reid. J.B., Evans. P.G.H., Northridge. S.P. (ed.), 2003. Atlas of Cetacean Distribution in North-west European Waters. Peterborough: Joint Nature Conservation Committee.


This review can be cited as:

Edwards, R.V. 2006. Balaenoptera acutorostrata Minke whale. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 19-09-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 19/04/2006