Colour Patterns

Identifying dwarf minke whales: colour patterns

The dwarf minke whale has the most complex colour pattern of any baleen whale. Some features are found only in dwarf minke whales:

  1. Flipper colour, which is dark at the tip but completely white at the base of the flipper
  2. Colour of the shoulder region, which is completely white where the flipper joins the body and extends as a white shoulder patch around much of the flipper
  3. A light grey, roughly triangular thorax patch, which extends up each side of the animal from just above the white shoulder patch and flipper
  4. Dark band of colour on the neck, between the end of the mouth and the flipper, which continues as a dark throat patch extending on each side well down onto the throat. These dark throat patches are seen very clearly if the whale turns to expose the underside of the body
Dwarf minke whale colour patterns

Diagram showing colour pattern fields of a dwarf minke whale

No other whale has this combination of colour patterns which conclusively identifies the animal as a dwarf minke whale.

The Antarctic minke whale has no dark throat patch, the flipper is light to dark grey with white only along the leading edge of the flipper, there is no white shoulder patch and the thorax patch is small and behind, not above the flipper.

The northern hemisphere minke whale has a white band across the flipper, but the tip and the base of the flipper are dark. There is no white shoulder patch.

Many of the other patterns of colour are quite asymmetrical in the dwarf minke whale, with different arrangements of colours on the left and right side. This asymmetry is not as pronounced as in the finback whale but is obvious once you look closely. For example:

  1. The top of the head is light grey but the light colour extends further back on the right side than on the left.
  2. The base of the lower jaw, just in front of the eye, has a white notch or band but is completely dark on the left side.
  3. The eye is often partially surrounded by white on the right side but this is only rarely so on the left.

In total, these features make the left side of the head look much darker than the right side.

Many features of the colour pattern vary so extensively that we are using them, with scars, to recognise individual whales (see ourĀ Photo-ID study page for more info).

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