The Naming of Things: Minke Whale

Oh stinky Minke! (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

These “little” baleen whales are often nick-named for their less-than-fresh “breath” when they surface to blow. Thankfully the stories behind their other names are not as assaulting to the olfactory senses.

Photo by Allison Payne

As we’ve seen before here at The Naming of Things, the genus Balaenoptera comes from the Latin “balaena” (whale) and the Greek “ptera” (wings/fins). The species name acutorostrata comes from the Latin “acuta” (sharp) and “rostrata” (beaked). So the Minke’s scientific name describes a fined whale with a sharp pointed rostrum – acurate-ish but not necessarily the most defining characteristics of a Minke Whale (the second smallest baleen whale after the pygmy right whale and also coloured with white “bands” on their pectoral flippers).

Photo by Judith Scott

This lack of distinctiveness in their name may ultimately reflect some of the original issues that existed with identifying these whales though, which in turn led to the origin of their common name as it’s said the name Minke comes from a partial translation of Norwegian Meincke, a Norwegian whaler who supposedly mistook a northern minke whale for a blue whale.

Poor stinky Minke!

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