Today will be my last post about animals I saw on my way to and in Newfoundland. And this is probably the animal I was most excited about seeing. I saw it on the boat tour that brought me so close to the wonderful Atlantic puffin. Technically the tour was labelled as a whale and bird watching tour, and it was the whales I was most excited for. Unfortunately, upon arriving in Newfoundland, I was told by every local that I had missed whale season, and wouldn’t be seeing any during my trip. So I quietly swallowed my disappointment and booked a ticket on a boat tour anyway – after all I had to at least see some puffins.
As we pushed off from the dock and our very Newfie guide told us about boat safety and things, my eyes were frantically scanning the sea. I thought I saw something in the distance, but said nothing, as I was pretty sure it was my mind playing tricks on me. When we rumbled quietly further into the bay, however, it turned out I wasn’t crazy. The sleek form of a common minke whale’s back appeared near the boat, and one of my dreams came true. I saw a whale! Even better, I got some pictures of it, which apparently is quite difficult since minkes are a slippery lot, only surfacing for a couple of seconds before diving again.
Though minke whales are the second smallest baleen whale, they are still crazy large, growing up to ten meters long. Like all baleen whales, minkes have plates of baleen in their mouths instead of teeth. This lets the whale filter feed – it takes in giant mouthfuls of water and the special plates catch krill and sardines and other small creatures which the whale can then swallow.
Minke whales live all over the world, and are a fairly common sight. They migrate to tropical waters in the winter, and head to cooler areas in the summer when food is abundant. They rarely seem to venture into the ocean, staying relatively near the coast and sometimes entering bays and estuaries (like the one I saw!)
Minke whales have only one calf per gestation, and are thought to have a calf every other year. When calfs are born they weigh about 450kg – and keep in mind that minkes are small whales! At 5 months of age calfs are weaned, and become sexually mature at 6 years. That seems like a long time for an animal, but minke whales live to 45 years, so they actually have pretty good full lives.
Minke whales were hunted for meat and oil once most other species of whales were depleted. Once most whaling was banned, however, minke whale numbers recovered and they are quite a common species these days.
I was thrilled to see a whale, even though it wasn’t a humpback (which is what I really wanted to see!). Minkes are pretty beautiful creatures, and I can’t believe how lucky I was to see one.