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The Antarctic Minke Whale or Southern Minke Whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis), is a species of Minke Whale within the suborder of baleen whales.

Taxonomy

Until recently, all Minke Whales were considered a single species. However, the Common Minke Whale was recognized as a separate species from the Antarctic Minke Whale based on mitochondrial DNA testing. This testing also confirmed that the Antarctic Minke Whale is the closest relative of the Common Minke Whale, thus confirming the validity of the Minke Whale clade.

Physical description

The Antarctic Minke Whale is one of the smallest of the rorquals, and one of the smallest baleen whales. Among rorquals, only the Common Minke Whale is smaller, and among baleen whales the Pygmy Right Whale is also smaller. Length ranges from 7.2 to 10.7 meters and weight ranges from 5.8 to 9.1 tons. On average, females are about 1 meter longer than males. Newborns range from 2.4 to 2.8 meters.

The back is dark grey and the belly white. There is a double blaze of lighter grey on each side rising up from the belly. Flippers are dark with a white leading edge.

The Antarctic Minke Whale differs from the Common Minke Whale in several respects. The Antarctic Minke Whale is slightly larger than the Common Minke Whale, and the Common Minke Whale has a white band in the middle of each flipper. There are also less distinctive differences in body coloration and shape.

Distribution

The Antarctic Minke Whale inhabits all oceans in the Southern hemisphere. Its summer range is close to Antarcticamarker, but it moves further north in winter, overlapping in range with the dwarf form of the Common Minke Whale.

Whaling

The first recorded catch of what was probably an Antarctic Minke Whale (it wasn’t stated whether it was a Dwarf or Antarctic Minke, but it was probably the latter) was made by the British in the 1950-51 Antarctic season. By 1957-58 the Antarctic catch had reached 493. The catch was significantly less and much more sporadic the following seasons, until 1967-68, when 605 were taken. A total of 3,021 were caught in 1971-72. Not wanting to repeat the same mistakes it had made with previous species, the IWC set a quota of 5,000 Minke Whales for the following season, 1972-73. Despite these precautions, the quota was exceeded by 745.

The quota was again set at 5,000 for 1973-74, but Japanmarker and the Soviet Unionmarker, the two nations that were now responsible for filling all of the Antarctic quota of this species, protested, and the quota was raised to 7,713 (of which all were caught). The catch fluctuated between a little less than 5,000 and 7,000 (with a peak of 7,900 in 1976-77) from this time on until 1986-87, when openly commercial whaling of this species in the Southern Oceanmarker ended.

From 1987 to the present, Japan has been sending a fleet consisting of a single factory ship and several catcher/spotting vessels to the Southern Ocean to catch Antarctic Minke Whales under Article VIII of the IWC which allows the culling of whales for scientific research. The first research program, JARPA (Japanese Research Program in the Antarctic), began in 1987-88, when 273 Antarctic Minke were caught. The quota and catch soon increased to 330 and 440. In 2005-06 the second research program, JARPA II, began. In its first two years, in what Japan called its "feasibility study," 850 Antarctic Minke, as well as 10 Fin Whales, were to be taken each season (2005-06 and 2006-07). The quota was reached in the first season, but due to a fire only 508 Antarctic Minke were caught in the second. In 2007-08, because of constant harassment from environmental groups, they failed to reach the quota again, with a catch of only 551 whales.

Conservation Status

The Antarctic Minke Whale is considered Data Deficient by the IUCN red list. However it has been estimated that there are over 500,000.

References




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