In coastal waters of British Columbia minke whales are rather uncommon. They can be difficult to find in anything but the best weather – in very specific places – and during the summer. That said, we’re always a little bit excited when the first minke whale of the year gets photographed. As these animals are migratory, it is a sign that spring is here and that summer is on the way.
Yesterday, our colleagues at Orcalab on Hanson Island photo-identified Eclipse (above), a young minke whale that we have known since its first year of life in 2007. Eclipse is often the first minke whale to arrive to the feeding grounds off northern Vancouver Island and the last individual to leave in the fall. This is not surprising considering all of the other minkes that are regular to this area are adults and therefore may be motivated to spend more time in the breeding grounds during winter months.
Nevertheless, Orcalab’s photograph shows that Eclipse was sporting a new cookiecutter shark scar indicating that this animal also made a long distance migration to warm waters this past winter. The other marks on Eclipse such as the scratches and bumps near the dorsal ridge aft of the dorsal fin have changed very little over the past few years (above) allowing us to verify its identity. When seen from the side Eclipse can also be identified by the shape of its dorsal fin and thoracic patch (below).
The waters off northern Vancouver Island may well be the only place in British Columbia that finding and studying minke whales with any degree of regularity is feasible. Through our research, we’ve learned a bit about this species over the years. We’ve gathered insights into their seasonal movements, vocal behaviour as well as their population size and structure. Most notably though, we have come to appreciate minke whales for their ability to remain elusive, cryptic and mysterious despite several years of field studies.