Over this past week, hundreds of Manx residents have had the pleasure of watching a very special and unusual number of Minke whales, extremely close inshore along Marine drive and within Douglas bay. The whales first made their appearance on Monday 11th September with one individual seen off Marine drive. This was the first Minke sighting we have heard of for really quite a long time, following an unusually quiet summer for the species. No one, however, would be prepared for what was the happen over the coming week…
It all kicked off on Wednesday 12th when a couple of reports started coming through throughout the day. We put a call out on Manx radio, our facebook page and on our Whatsapp live sightings group chat. Supporters soon headed up the drive and began spotting Minke whales taking part in a feeding frenzy all along Marine drive. We had observers watching from numerous locations and we soon discovered the whales were stretched the entire length of the drive from Douglas head along to Port Soderick. In total over the afternoon, we counted at the very least 20 individuals, although we suspect there could have been more. The sheer number of Gannets was overwhelming, they were literally everywhere, and where the whales were, the gannets dove, getting involved in the frenzy of fish.
Juvenile Minke whale, Peter Christian
Minke from a boat, Guy Wood
The fun certainly didn’t end here and the whales just kept on coming. More and more were seen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. By this time some individuals had even entered Douglas bay, and the harbours were notified of their presence. Other whales made their way further south, with sightings off Fort Island and Santon Gorge. By Monday, things seemed a little quieter and on Tuesday a single whale was spotted off the Toll gate. We haven’t had any reports since then, but they may have moved slightly further offshore or even headed south.
So what were they doing here? Well, at this time of year the Herring move round to the east of the Isle of Man to spawn. This year they must have spawned much closer inshore than usual and in far higher numbers. Many observers reported seeing the water ‘teeming’ with fish and it really was a food free-for-all which lured the Minke whales inshore to gorge themselves on.
During the 2016 Herring spawn, we did have Minke whales present along Marine drive for a few days, but we also had an incredibly rare and exciting sighting of 2 Fin whales that came to join in on the action! When this number of fish are spawning, you never really know what might come along to feed on them.
Is it unusual to see such large numbers of Minke whales together? Around the Isle of Man, yes. They are typically a solitary species, but mother and juveniles are sometimes seen. Minkes only get together to mate or to feed, and in this case, the abundance of food drove them all together. Talking of juveniles, a number were seen and photographed over the week, including this youngster with its mother swimming on her side…
The fin you see on the left is mother swimming on her side with pectoral fin in the air. At the front you can see the dorsal fin of the juvenile. Photo by Mike Kelly
How can I improve my chances of seeing them?
- One of the best indicators is diving gannets. These birds have exceptional eyesight and once they clock a whale feeding, they dive from great height to get involved in the fishy action
- Look out for general disturbance on the surface of the water
- Be patient and stay looking for a while. Take binoculars if possible
- If you have Whatsapp, get yourself signed up to our live sightings feed. Message Jen on 393496 to be added
- Join our Facebook community to hear more about sightings and share photos and video
Close up showing double blow hole, John Cowin
Whale on her side, displaying pectoral fin. Body visible under water. Mike Kelly
Minke whale fun facts.
- Minke whales are the smallest species of ‘true’ whale in the world. There, is, however, a smaller subspecies of Minke whale known as the Antarctic or Dwarf Minke. True whales are those which possess baleen plates. This family, known as rorquals, includes Humpback, Fin and Blue whales. Contrary to common belief, many cetacean species with the term ‘whale’ in their name are in fact dolphins. This includes Sperm whales, Pilot whales and Killer whales (Orca)
- Like other rorquals, Minke whales filter large numbers of fish through their baleen plates. These plates are made up of keratin, just like human hair and nails
- Minke whales can grow to 9 metres (29ft) but males are smaller
- They have a double blowhole
- They are the only species of whale known to science which posses white bands on their pectoral fins
- The blow, or spout, of a Minke whale, is not usually seen. It is so fine that it dissipates straight away.
- Minke whales are affectionately known as ‘stinky minkes’ as they have unbelievable smelly breath. On a calm day, with the wind in the right direction, you can sometimes smell them before you see them. Not surprising seeing as they never brush their teeth!