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An Exciting Encounter with a Ninja Whale

Kera's avatar

Whale Watching | Mammals

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Kera

And breaching baby humpback whales too!

One of the nicknames we have for the minke whales are ninja whales. They’re the whale that pops up once and then disappears. Just last week we had a minke whale come up to the boat and it was far from acting like a ninja.

Overall this has got to be one of the most exciting whale watching years I’ve ever been a part of. We’ve had a tremendous amount of gray whale sightings, as well as blue whales, fin whales, humpback whales, minke whales, and even sperm whales. Within that we’ve seen whales mating, a whale giving birth, and tons of breaching! Holy cow, there’s a lot going on. And on top of all of that, last week one of the minke whales decided to come up and play with the boat!

Minke whales have always been known to be very curious. However, we’ll see the minke whale pop up once and then disappear most of the time. Last week when this minke popped up, he was acting like anything but the ninja we know them for. It came right up to the boat, rolled over and looked right up at everyone. It spent quite a bit of time with the boat before it went down and wasn’t seen again. I’ve always wondered when the minke whale “disappears” if it’s really watching us and we just don’t know it. I wouldn’t be surprised for how curious they seem to be at times!

This isn’t the first close encounter we’ve had out here with minke whales although this is probably the longest and closest we’ve seen a minke. Others around here have also had close encounters. Last year there was a paddle boarder that was crossing the channel from Catalina and a minke whale came and swam right next to her for two hours! Videos showed it rolling in circles and blowing bubbles next to her. I can only imagine how spectacular that was.

Even though the minke whale is the smallest baleen whale that we’ll see, they sure can give a great show. Not to mention, if we are going to see humpback whales, now is the time of year where we see them. Just yesterday they saw a calf breaching! If you’re interested in searching for some entertaining marine mammals, they’ve been giving us quite the show!

An Exciting Encounter with a Ninja Whale
A minke whale approaches the boat under the water. Too bad there is trash in the water too.  | Katie Russel
An Exciting Encounter with a Ninja Whale
A calf humpback breaches while traveling close to its mother.  | Noor Abdul-Hafiz

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Isela Gandara

Friday, April 08, 2011 07:58 PM

Is spring time the best time to see whales or can you see them during July?  Id like to take my kids to the aquarium during summer!

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Jonas

Sunday, April 10, 2011 12:15 AM

In your photo caption you say minke whales are the smallest of the baleen whales. I thought pygmy right whales were?

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0

Monday, April 11, 2011 02:35 PM

Isela, July is a great time to bring your kids!  Although the gray whales are gone, the blue whales are typically here in pretty good numbers at that time!

Jonas, great point!  I’ve heard and read that it’s up between those two!  Typically the pygmy right whale is smaller by about 3-4ft on the average, although I’ve heard reports that the smallest minke found was smaller than the pygmy right whales.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they found a smaller pygmy right whale.  For sure the minke is the smallest rorqual whale, or baleen whale with ventral pleats.  I’ll make sure and update if I can find “smallest” of both species!

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Jonas

Monday, April 11, 2011 10:53 PM

Well, pygmy rights are only 21-ft max., whereas even sexually mature N. minkes average 22-24-ft (adult is 29-30-ft max.*). Dwarf minkes are also bigger, reaching a max. of 22-24, but they only occur in the Southern Hemisphere. Pygmy rights average about 5 short tons**, whereas minkes average 6-8 tons (max. 9-10 tons). I think when it comes to which species is considered larger you have to factor in maximum length and weight—that’s what every book I’ve read usually goes by.

*Anytime you see 35-ft for minkes, it’s likely in reference to only Antarctic minkes, which some sources fail to account for when giving max. lengths for one or both species. 

**Another source (Shirihai 2006) says they only reach 2.8-3.5 metric tons.

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Jonas

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 12:08 AM

Yeah, I was looking through my notes and Kemper (2008) gives 3.4 metric tons as a maximum weight for pygmy right whales. I’m not sure what the figure of 5 short tons (4.5 metric tons) is based on (it’s from Watson 1985, in Davis et al. 1997). Perhaps it’s more of an estimate?

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011 03:02 PM

Yes, you’re correct that in general, pygmy right whales are smaller.  I believe the smallest minke ever recorded was smaller than any pygmy right whale ever recorded.  After speaking with a local researcher to get the number of the smallest minke, they’re not sure if the minke recorded was fully mature.  I’ll make sure and change it to rorqual whale since now it’s not for certain if the minke holds the smallest record!

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Jonas

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 06:12 PM

I’m very confused. Every source I’ve read expressly states that pygmy right whales are the smallest of the baleen whales. What does it matter what the smallest recorded whales of each species were? I’ve never heard that before. If a species reaches larger maximums than another (in this case, 30ft and 9-10 short tons vs. 21-ft and 3.85/4.5 short tons) it is considered the larger of the two species. I’ve never seen any source state otherwise. I’m still not sure where you’re coming from. It’s a general consensus that minkes are the larger of the two species. Much larger in fact. I doubt even physically mature dwarf minkes get smaller than physically mature pygmy rights—which is irrelevant, given the former has a maximum several feet longer (25-ft vs. 21-ft) than the latter.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011 08:47 PM

Sources will tell you that minkes are larger than pygmy sperm whales.  I sometimes get the opportunity to speak with current
researchers and discuss things that aren’t always written in books or published yet.  I spoke with some people and read a report a little over a year ago about a minke whale that was found to be smaller than any baleen whale.  However, as I mentioned, I just found out they’re not sure the whale was mature, therefore that minke can’t be considered smaller.  That is why I originally called the minke the smallest.  It’s similar to how many say the gray whale has the longest migration of any mammal, when in fact, recently, they’ve found it to be a humpback.  Although MOST of the time it’s gray whales, the humpback holds the record.  And when I write about an animal that has the longest migration route, I’d say the humpback.

Thank you for asking questions, as it pushed me to check back and find out they’re not certain about the minke whale.

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Jonas

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 09:03 PM

What report is this exactly? What length was it? If a species grows larger than another, it IS the larger species. I’m still very lost. The literature has already clearly established that pygmy right whales are the smaller of the two species, yet you call the minke the smaller of the two based on a single report of an individual you didn’t know was mature or not? Shouldn’t you be basing an assumption like that on more evidence than that?

Your comparison doesn’t make sense. If humpbacks migrating from Costa Rica to the Antarctic travel further than grays going from Baja to Alaska, who has the longer migration? It’s a pretty clear cut answer. Most of the time? That doesn’t make sense! I’m really having trouble following your logic here.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011 10:17 PM

Thanks for your comments. I’ll keep them in mind for future blogs.

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May

Sunday, April 17, 2011 10:49 PM

What’s the best time to take the whale watch cruise? the 12 noon or the 3pm?

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Monday, April 25, 2011 07:00 PM

Hi May. That’s a great question. The truth is that both trips are about the same. Sometimes we’ll see whales on the first trip and then they’ll be out of reach for the 3pm trip, or vice versa. The most important thing is seasonal timing. Right now we’re at the end of gray whale season. We’re still seeing quite a few mom and baby pairs passing by, but soon it will tail off. Blue whale season is right around the corner if you don’t make it out for the gray whales though!

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