Minke whales in a changing Icelandic ecosystem

November 11, 2020

Life of the minke whale in Iceland has changed dramatically in recent years.

Faxa bay, our whale watching site, became partly a whale sanctuary in 2017. Therefore, hardly any minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) were hunted in the following seasons. Finally, since the abundance of minke whales in the Icelandic continental shelf decreased by almost 23 percent in the last decade. By signing the petition by our partners, the IFAW you can help to ban whaling in Iceland forever. 

The decrease of the population together with dietary changes, may reflect the responses of minke whales to a changed environment possible driven by global warming. In recent years, the Icelandic continental shelf ecosystem has changed due to the increase in sea surface and bottom temperatures. The cold-water species capelin almost disappeared and the stock of krill and sandeel broke in dramatically. Today minke whales consume mainly herring and haddock.
The food itself is not the reason why the minke whale is often called “stinky minke”. The digestive system composes of four compartments with a high density of anaerobic bacteria which digest the food and lead to the awful smell, but you want to smell it, that means it is a close encounter. 

The minke whale is a baleen whale species. The common minke, whale here in the northern hemisphere, can be identified by the white band on their flippers. The back is usually black or dark grey while the belly is white. They can reach about eight meters with a weight of four to five tons. Minke whales have between 240 to 360 baleen plates on each side of their mouth. You can read here more about how they feed. 

Since Faxaflói became a whale sanctuary we encountered significantly more curious young spy hopping minke whales. Normally during an encounter, the whale surfaces about three times before going for a deeper dive. While it surfaces to breath most of the length of the back including dorsal fin and blowholes appear.

The minke whale is fascinating, isn’t is? This is why our partner, the Whales of Iceland exhibition has an interactive minke whale to explore. In addition, you can drink a coffee sitting under a life size model of these beauties.