Dwarf minke pays a surprise visit

A whale, believed to be of the rarely-seen dwarf minke variety, frolics in Otago Harbour. Photo by Sean Heseltine.
A whale, believed to be of the rarely-seen dwarf minke variety, frolics in Otago Harbour. Photo by Sean Heseltine.
Two groups of tourists on Dunedin wildlife tours have certainly had their money's worth in recent days, spotting what is believed to be a rarely-seen dwarf minke whale.

Fifteen visitors on an Elm Wildlife Tours Otago Peninsula tour last Wednesday saw the small brown whale circling in the ocean below Cape Saunders, while 40 people aboard the Monarch wildlife cruise vessel saw apparently the same whale diving and surfacing in Otago Harbour on Saturday.

Monarch skipper Sean Heseltine said yesterday the whale, which was about 5m long and a blotchy brown colour, stayed in view for about four hours. He was "about 95%" sure it was a dwarf minke after comparing photos taken on the cruise to those in a book.

Both he and Elm Tours owner Brian Templeton said it was rare to see a minke, although southern right whales were spotted reasonably regularly, generally swimming beyond Taiaroa Head.

Department of Conservation coastal marine ranger Jim Fyfe said last night while he had not seen the whale himself, its size and colour indicated it was probably a dwarf minke.

Dwarf minkes live in the Southern Ocean and grow to a length of 8m. They are commonly seen on the Great Barrier reef and have also been seen in New Zealand, New Caledonian, South African and South American waters.

A dead newborn minke was washed up at Aramoana in June 2003, while a newborn "mystery whale" also thought to be a minke or dwarf minke was washed up dead at Warrington Beach the following month.

Not much was known about the travel patterns of dwarf minkes, Mr Fyfe said.

"They are one of the more common whales in the world but not commonly encountered in New Zealand. We are interested in finding out a lot more about them."

The actions of the latest minke visitor indicated it was feeding on krill, he said, and might remain in the area for some time.


Mystery minke visit

I grew up in Dunedin and saw the report of a minke sighted in the harbour. I have lived in Cairns for many years and skippered dive boats up the reef for the last 20 years, and am probably the most experienced dive boat skipper involved in the swim with minkes program in the Great Barrier Reef. The photo you showed doesn't look like any minke we see up here in the winter. Rather they are very smoothly blue/grey coloured with extremely sleek streamlined bodies. They also have 2 quite distinct ridges running forward from the blow hole which your animal didn't seem to have. Sorry but it's back to the books on this one.

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