Minke whale

Latin: Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Manx: Muc-varrey ny maaigyn bane

IUCN Red List status: Least Concern

Physical description

The minke whale is the second smallest member of the rorqual family. This family also includes the largest animals on earth, the blue and fin whale.

Minke whales can reach 8-10 metres (26-32ft) when fully grown. They are a smooth, streamlined animal with a sharp pointed rostrum and a double blow hole. Overall colour is dark grey with a white underside and bright white bands on the pectoral fins. The dorsal fin is very small and curved and located ¾ of the way along the back.

Manx distribution

Minke whales are typically seen off the south and west of the island between May and August, moving round to the east between September and November as they follow the herring to their spawning grounds. During the autumn, they can be seen within 200 metres of the coast and hot-spots include Bulgham Bay, Laxey Bay, Douglas Bay and Marine Drive.

Usually solitary, but larger aggregations can be seen if feeding is plentiful.

World distribution

There are two distinct species of minke whale; the common minke whale and the antarctic minke whale, which has a dwarf subspecies. The common minke is found anywhere north of the equator, and can be found as far north as the Arctic ocean. 

Photo by Jane Young

Minke whales tend to surface slowly. Often, you will see a long, slow stretch of back slipping through the water before the small dorsal fin becomes visible. They typically surface around five times before diving for 15-20 minutes.  In other parts of the world they breach clear of the water, but this is not seen very often around the Isle of Man. This rare image was taken near Niarbyl in 2021 and is the only photo record we have of a breaching minke whale. It is also rare to observe the ‘blow’ of a minke whale. They do produce a spray, but it is so short and fine that it disperses almost immediately and you can only see it when the sea is flat calm and the weather humid.


Being a member of the rorqual family, minke whales possess hair like ‘baleen plates’ made from keratin, of which hundreds are present in each jaw. When feeding the whale will take in huge quantities of water and food and use the hairy plates to filter out the food, dispelling the water and using their tongue to swallow the food.

Lunge feeding can sometimes been observed and interactions with other species such as harbour porpoise are common when feeding upon a large shoal of fish.

Their diet is varied; further north they would feed on krill, but in Manx waters they feed predominantly on herring. 

Photo by Kirrie Jenkins

Report a Sighting

Have you seen a minke whale in Manx waters? Report your sighting to us.