The minke whale has many other common names (in English these include: little piked whale, lesser rorqual, bay whale, sharpheaded finner; there is an equivalent range of names in other languages). To avoid confusion, throughout the world each species has only one universally accepted scientific name. For historical reasons this is in Latin and consists of two parts, the genus name and the specific name. The genus, which can be considered like a surname, groups together those species which are considered most closely related. It is written first (just as surnames appear first in a listing such as the telephone directory) and is capitalised. Specific names, rather like our given names, appear second and always start with a small letter, even if they are named after people or places.
If there are variations within the species which are considered consistent and distinctive enough, they may be named as ‘subspecies’, e.g. Balaenoptera acutorostrata acutorostrata for the North Atlantic minke whale. Since 2001 the ‘Antarctic minke whale’ has been recognised as a distinct species, Balaenoptera bonaerensis.
While some people have also suggested that the dwarf minke whale is a distinct species, evidence indicates it is most closely related to the northern hemisphere minke whales. It is best considered an as yet un-named subspecies of Balaenoptera acutorostrata.
Balaenoptera acutorostrata (for northern hemisphere and dwarf minke whales)
- Order: Cetacea
- The whales, dolphins and porpoises. Over 80 species are currently recognised.
- Suborder: Mysticeti
- The baleen whales, usually gigantic filter-feeding species which include the right, gray, blue, finback, humpback, Bryde's and minke whales; at least 12 species are recognised. The blue whale grows to over 30 metres and 190 tonnes (said to be equivalent in weight to a town of 2500 people); it is the largest animal known to have ever lived (including the most gigantic dinosaurs). With the exception of the sperm whale, all of the 'great whales' are baleen whales.
- Family: Balaenopteridae (fin whales)
- Includes baleen whales such as blue, finback, humpback and minke. Loosely translated, the name means 'baleen whale with a fin', referring to the small dorsal or back fin in all these whales. These whales also have a series of deep grooves along the throat, which can be enormously expanded. An alternative name, 'rorqual', refers to these belly grooves.
- Genus: Balaenoptera
- This genus includes all the fin whales except for the humpback whale Megaptera novaengliae.
- Species: acutorostrata
- Meaning 'with a sharp snout', referring to the very pointed head when seen from above. The Antarctic minke B. bonaerensis is named after Buenos Aires, Argentina near where the first specimen was collected.
- Described Subspecies
- acutorostrata acutorostrata (from North Atlantic) acutorostrata scammoni (from North Pacific; named after the American whaling captain, Charles Scammon, who wrote extensively about Pacific whales, especially the gray whale)
Currently regarded as a subspecies of B. acutorostrata, the dwarf minke whale has not yet been formally named.