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A curious juvenile Minke whale

Another stunning day with an excellent view and calm weather accompanied us during our fieldwork at Vestfjorden and it was in this glassy water that we spotted a dorsal fin in the horizon!


We saw a curious juvenile Minke whale, who did not seem very calm as usual for this species in these waters. Especially due to active whaling, here in Norway minke whales are legally hunted including Vestfjorden where our research takes place. 



We could identify it from the small curved dorsal fin, that is about two thirds of the way along the back, which has generally a darker pigmentation than the lower part of the body. Adult minke whales can reach up to 10 m in length. The animal spotted in our encounter was shorter in length, that’s why we assumed it was a young individual growing up.


We stopped the engine as soon as we confirmed the sighting, getting ready to collect as much data as possible, with binoculars, notebook, cameras and the drone ready to be used, for getting the most from this great sighting opportunity. With the notebook always in our hands, we first annotated the coordinates regarding our location, as well as the young animal and following the procedure, we started taking many photos of the individual’s identification.


We saw a curious juvenile Minke whale, who did not seem very calm as usual for this species in these waters. Especially due to active whaling, here in Norway minke whales are legally hunted including the Vestfjord where our research takes place.

 

We could identify it from the small curved dorsal fin, that is about two thirds of the way along the back, which has generally a darker pigmentation than the lower part of the body. Adult minke whales can reach up to 10 m in length. The animal spotted in our encounter was shorter in length, that’s why we assumed it was a young individual growing up.


We stopped the engine as soon as we confirmed the sighting, getting ready to collect as much data as possible, with binoculars, notebook, cameras and the drone ready to be used, for getting the most out of this great sighting opportunity. With the notebook always in our hands, we first annotated the coordinates regarding our location, as well as the young animal and following the procedure, we started taking many photos of the individual’s identification.


Thanks to an experienced team and also to the wonderful conditions that really help doing research on marine mammals, we were able to immediately fly the drone, high enough not to interfere with the young whale that we were discreetly observing or interrupting the natural behavior. With a great panoramic above the water we were able to see the young minke when it was diving and coordinate the rest of the team to look at the right direction when it was about to surface again. Ready to capture that exact moment, taking photo-ID with the camera and constantly annotating its behavior. The communication between the team is fundamental during this phase, and with the amount of data we collected, we are proud of the work done!


Conforming with the behavior of this interesting species, the young individual was spotted alone, breaking the surface with the characteristic pointed head above water. It approached the boat and remained close for long periods, long enough to take many detailed photo-IDs.  As you can see from the picture above, it was possible to spot him underwater from the unique white patches on the pectoral fin that characterize this species. This species usually dives for about five minutes, but it could last longer. Its behavior was constantly recorded, with surfacing intervals lasting about 3 minutes each. Only after a few times seen around the boat it dived for a long time and from the drone footage it seemed like it was going to change direction, maybe there were schooling fish somewhere nearby? Yes, there were! In fact, it was hunting and we and we were able to record it when it was feeding!



Minke whales belong to the group of Baleen Whales, a group of whales that have plates instead of teeth, they feed on krill, and small schooling fish such as young herring and cod, which could have easily been his “meal “considering the time of year in these waters of Vestfjorden.


We could recognize that it was feeding from some action above the mirror water. Its behavior changed, surfacing much more often than the previous recording. From the drone we could see the full action. Very interesting!

After getting enough food, the young whale checked our boat for the last time before it started a long dive, too deep and far for continuing with the visual monitoring and we called off the sighting.


Amazed from this long encounter we made our way back to land, with many photos and videos to watch and behavioral data to analyze. A very exciting day to remember!




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