“Whilst busy watching whales traveling alongside our vessel on 8th June we spotted some splashes a bit further off. So we left a mother and calf pair behind and were amazed by what we encountered! A much smaller whale, although similar looking to the Bryde’s, proposing at a speed of 17-20km/h!” said Marine biologist/guide, Sandra Hoerbst.
When back at base, the photographs were shown to Meredith Thornton, the Research Coordinator for the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, who reported that she was about 70% confident that the animal was a dwarf minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata subsp.). “This is an exciting encounter for this area as they haven’t been recorded here before, although we suspect that they occur throughout the southern African sub-region”. Dwarf minkes are usually shy, fast-moving whales, with erratic surfacing patterns, but can be attracted to stationery vessels, often circling them at a close distance for many minutes at a time. They are usually 7-8m in length, characterised by a c-shaped pale grey colouration in the shoulder area and a small dolphin-like dorsal fin.
Dwarf minkes were even caught during the time of whaling at the Durban whaling station, but numbers were very low so we don’t think that the population was heavily impacted – they are very small animals and not rich in the blubber and meat that was sought after during that time.
The most interesting thing about dwarf minkes is their vocalisations. Their call has been termed the Star Wars vocalisation and interested readers should definitely search online for a recording of their call.
As a whale biologist, Meredith clearly remembers the first time that colleagues of hers discovered the call and emailed it around the world, “It was mind-blowing, the call was completely unexpected for a baleen whale and sounded so synthetic and unlike any other whale sound I had heard before!
This sighting goes to show that unless we are out there on the water regularly we are just not going to see and experience the unusual or unexpected species that are around. Our oceans still hold so many secrets and stories just waiting for us to discover!” (Shortened: Editor)