During a typical encounter with dwarf minkes, we are likely to observe a wide assortment of behaviors. One or more whales may display fluctuating levels of energy, interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm as they swim by the boat and around the snorkelers. In general, if we show interest in them they are more likely to be curious and interactive with us.
Look Before You Breach
Researchers and minke whale enthusiasts have categorized many of the different behaviors that may be seen over the course of an encounter. Some of the more popular & appreciated minke behaviors include breaching, when a whale literally leaps out of the water to create a spectacular splash, and spy-hopping which occurs when a whale assumes a vertical position in the water and lifts his snout out of the water to expose his eye.
Minkes will sometimes utilize their breath-control ability to create bubble formations under the water. They might perform an impressive ‘bubble blast’ which consists of an explosive cloud of bubbles which are forcefully released from the blowhole. This roiling cloud can easily be seen both underwater and as it bursts on the surface. Dwarf minkes can also trickle a long & steady stream of fine bubbles, which are described as a bubble trail.
Show That Belly!
When in the water, it is always a treat to witness a belly presentation, which occurs when a minke rolls on her side to expose her vulnerable, snowy-white belly. Sometimes this is done dynamically as the whale swims at an angle and completes a 360 degree roll, and other times the whale may pause for several moments vertically in the water column with its chin near the surface just a few feet from a swimmer with its belly fully exposed. No matter what the motivation, this behavior represents a high degree of trust.
Some people are lucky enough to witness a minke opening its mouth wide to expand the throat pouch as the whale filters water through its baleen plates. This is called a jaw gape, and can be performed even when there is no food in the water.
While we might be tempted to interpret the underlying motivations for certain behaviors, our guesses are only speculation. However, if a dwarf minke exhibits an unexpected burst of speed or suddenly veers away, it is a sure sign that the whale has been disturbed in some way.
On Alert, All the Time
Due to the dynamic nature of their underwater environment, dwarf minke whales can be more relaxed and ‘present’ during an encounter than at other times. They may be energized, exhausted, tense, relaxed, wary, peaceful, etc, depending on the weather & water conditions, their recent activities, the proximity of predators, the underwater terrain, and other variables within their immediate environment.
As with any wild animal, these small, vulnerable whales must always remain aware of their surroundings, ever vigilant and prepared to defend against threats to their well-being. When minkes show interest in humans, it is a rare and generous gift to us, and it is truly a privilege to engage with them!
Because of the many variables impacting their behavior, when we’re in the open ocean with dwarf minkes, we never know what to expect. The whales teach us to be flexible, fluid, and to live in the moment. For both humans and whales, every encounter is unique and precious.
Minkes are similar to people in that they have unique personalities and variable moods. Some minkes are gregarious & socially engaging, and a few of the bolder whales will approach boats and swimmers immediately for a close, intimate encounter.
Other minkes are shy and more reticent; they may choose to maintain a reasonable distance until they develop the confidence & trust to swim nearer to snorkelers. Some of the minkes show no interest in us whatsoever… they might swim by the line of floating snorkelers and just keep going!
Minkes can be playful & rambunctious, and will at times display overtly flirtatious behaviors, like belly presentations. At other times, the same whale might behave in a more serene and self-composed manner.