Minke whales are the second smallest baleen whales and although they are not world-renowned for performing magnificent acrobatic displays or showing endearing curiosity around boats like their more popular cousins these whales are still a favorite among whale watchers worldwide.
Why are they so popular you ask? Because they’re widespread, prefer a coastal distribution, and most importantly, they are abundant which makes it very likely you will get to see one!
So if you were to ask the question: are minke whales endangered? Luckily for this species, the answer is NO!
Let’s dive right in as I further discuss this whale’s conservation status with you, its current population, what threats a minke whale may face throughout its life, and more.
Are Minke Whales Currently Endangered?
Minke whales are not currently listed as endangered either on the ESA (Endangered Species Act) or the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
The ESA is strictly US-based and grants the species there listed special legal protection.
The IUCN is international and is the most widely accepted standard worldwide when it comes to species conservation.
They currently list the minke whale as a species of “least concern” which as a wild animal is the category you want to be in, so way to go minke whales!
Not only are these whales not endangered, but as a matter of fact, they have, luckily, never been listed as such and have always maintained healthy, stable populations as far as scientists know.
Why Are Minke Whales Populations Stable?
So what made the second smallest of the rorquals the universe’s favorite as it appears to have been granted special protection while all of its cousins have come very close to becoming extinct?
How has the minke whale been able to sustain a stable population through centuries while most other baleen whales alternate between near extinct and vulnerable populations since the 1800s when the whaling frenzy began?
The answer is that its relatively smaller size didn’t make it as appealing to whalers as its larger relatives.
Now don’t be fooled, with a weight of 10 tons and a length of around 9 m / 30 feet the minke whale is an impressive sight for anyone lucky enough to witness this sea creature.
But when you compare this size to the 200-ton blue whale or even the 30-ton humpback whale it’s easy to see why whalers would rather focus all their manpower on catching other, more profitable cetaceans.
Another thing that discouraged whalers from pursuing minke whales is that their smaller body is also significantly more streamlined with an acutely pointed head making them extremely fast and therefore harder to catch.
Something else that played an important role in sustaining healthy minke whale populations is the fact that as other rorquals were being decimated this species could greatly benefit from increased food availability as there was increasingly less competition.
However, minke whales faced their share of tragedy as at some point commercial whaling reduced the populations present in the North Pacific and northeastern North Atlantic, but never in a way that posed a significant threat to the species as a whole.
Are Minke Whales Rare?
Minke whales are not rare. In fact, they are the most abundant baleen whale in the world! Better yet, their population has been historically stable throughout its range.
The best news for whale lovers like you and me is that their abundance and preference for coastal waters instead of the open ocean makes it very likely that you will be able to witness these beautiful cetaceans in the wild if you were to attend a whale-watching tour within their range.
How Many Minke Whales Are Left In The World?
The latest assessment, which was done in 2019, calculated that there are around 500.000 individuals within both species, the common minke whale and the antarctic minke whale.
This would mean the population went down as the previous assessment had estimated 720.000 individuals but it is still considered a stable population.
Minke Whale Threats
The biggest threat minke whales are facing today is, unfortunately, commercial whaling.
Although they survived the darkest whaling days thanks to being overlooked because of their small size and fast swimming they are currently not so lucky.
Because of the diminished protection, it has as a species of “least concern”, it is the most heavily hunted whale today by countries who refuse to abide by the current moratorium on whale hunting imposed by the IWC (International Whaling Commission).
Iceland, Norway, and Japan are the 3 countries performing massive hunts on minke whales that are deemed “sustainable”.
The reason the minke whale is now the target is the fact that most other rorqual species have been severely diminished.
Sadly for the minke whale, the fact that whalers today have access to modern hunting technology and faster ships makes it easier than before for them to keep up with these magnificent creatures.
Other very common, human-induced, causes of death for minke whales are entanglement in fishing gear as well as becoming bycatch.
The latter is particularly common off the coasts of Japan and Korea.
Vessel strikes are responsible for many minke whale deaths every year, ocean noise is a threat faced by all cetaceans, and marine debris is a growing threat as is climate change which is affecting the distribution and availability of prey worldwide.
The only natural predator of minke whales is the killer whale.
As you can see minke whales have managed to stay under the radar for quite some time resulting in abundant, stable populations worldwide.
Unfortunately for them, human greed knows no limits and it could very well be that their darker days are just beginning.
Although this rorqual is not endangered it is currently protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
My biggest wish for the minke whale is that lawmakers and whaling countries have learned something from their past behavior and hopefully actions will soon be taken that guarantee that this whale doesn’t face the same struggles as its larger relatives.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act can be found here:
Thank you for joining me today on this adventure and I will see you next time!
I am a lover of everything nature and animal related with over 15 years of experience in the field of wildlife rescue and education. Currently living in Colombia working with wild and domestic animals and spending all my free time writing about them 🙂