Knobble the minke whale has returned to the same feeding ground in the Hebrides for the 13th year in a row – it was spotted north of Coll at the weekend, by Sea Life Surveys. Natural markings and features on Knobble’s body helps to aid recognition of the whale and photographs of dorsal fins are used by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) to identify and follow the movements of individual animals in the Hebrides. To date over 250 individual whales have been identified using this method.
We have spotted minke whales on almost all of our cruises this season, reporting our sightings to HWDT via the Whale Watch app. Our Wildlife Guide, Lynsey Bland while aboard our vessel Emma Jane alone has reported 26 sightings of minke whales. Every summer, minke whales migrate to feed in the waters off Scotland’s west coast. Our Wildlife Guides and Skippers are expert at reading the sea to try and locate where the whales are feeding. A big gathering of seabirds is often a sign that a fish feeding frenzy is underway, where the fish are panicked by the birds into forming a tight shoal near the surface of the sea. Minke whales then take advantage of the concentration of fish and can be seen to be “lunge feeding”. During a lunge, the whale accelerates and rams the water with mouth open, gulping down huge amounts of water and prey in just a few seconds. This is spectacular to watch and a major highlight if seen on a cruise!
However minke whales are also very curious animals and will often approach our vessels, sometimes circling around the boat or passing under the hull, much to the delight of crew and guests. Occasionally a whale will flash its white underside at the boat or swim upside down.
Here are 5 additional facts about the minke whales who visit our waters every summer.
- Minke whales are the second smallest of the baleen whales (i.e. they have many throat grooves which distend when feeding) All baleen whales have blowholes and must come to the surface of the sea to breathe.
- Upon reaching sexual maturity (6–8 years of age), male minke whales measure an average of 6.9 m (23 ft) and female minke whales 8 m (26 ft) in length.
- Minke whales give birth to one live calf once a year, nursing their young for 4-6 months. By the time they migrate to the west coast of Scotland, the calves appear to be independent of their mothers. We often see very small minke whales and assume these are less than a year old. These small whales are often the most curious and will stay with the vessel for longest. We have wondered if the whale thinks our vessel might be mum!
- Minke whales feed on small fish and plankton by filtering water through their baleen combs.
- Minke whales migrate between tropical breeding grounds in the winter, and colder feeding regions during the summer. They are seen in the Hebrides from April to October, often in coastal waters.