Antarctic minke whale
Until recently, all minke whales were considered a single species. However, the common minke whale was recognized as a separate species from the Antarctic minke whale based on mitochondrial DNA testing. This testing also confirmed the Antarctic minke whale is the closest relative of the common minke whale, thus confirming the validity of the clade.
The Antarctic minke whale is one of the smallest of the rorquals, and one of the smallest baleen whales. Among rorquals, only the common minke whale is smaller, and among baleen whales, the pygmy right whale is also smaller. Length ranges from 7.2 metres (24 ft) to 10.7 metres (35 ft) and it weighs between 5.8 to 9.1 tons. On average, females are about 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) longer than males. Newborns range from 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in) to 2.8 metres (9 ft 2 in).
The back is dark grey and the belly white. There is a double blaze of lighter grey on each side rising up from the belly. Flippers are dark with a white leading edge.
The Antarctic minke whale differs from the common minke whale in several respects. The Antarctic minke is slightly larger than the common, and the common has a white band in the middle of each flipper. There are also less distinctive differences in body coloration and shape.
In 2014, researchers determined that the Antarctic minke whale is the source of a previously mysterious sound recorded in the Southern Ocean known as "bio-duck". This whale has been heard making a quacking sound since Cold War patrols picked it up on sonar during the 1960s. The sound seems to be made near the surface before deep feeding dives, but little is known of its function.
The Antarctic minke whale inhabits all oceans in the Southern Hemisphere. Its summer range is close to Antarctica, but it moves further north in winter, overlapping in range with the dwarf form of the common minke whale.
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The first recorded catch of what was probably an Antarctic minke whale (the record did not state whether it was a dwarf or Antarctic minke, but it was probably the latter) was made by the British in the 1950-51 Antarctic season. By 1957-58, the Antarctic catch had reached 493. The catch was significantly less and much more sporadic the following seasons, until 1967-68, when 605 were taken. A total of 3,021 were caught in 1971-72. Not wanting to repeat the same mistakes it had made with previous species, the IWC set a quota of 5,000 minke whales for the following season, 1972-73. Despite these precautions, the quota was exceeded by 745.
The quota was again set at 5,000 for 1973-74, but Japan and the Soviet Union, the two nations then responsible for filling all of the Antarctic quota of this species, protested, and the quota was raised to 7,713 (of which all were caught). The catch fluctuated between slightly less than 5,000 and 7,000 (with a peak of 7,900 in 1976-77) from then until 1986-87, when open commercial whaling of this species in the Southern Ocean ended.
From 1987 to the present, Japan has been sending a fleet consisting of a single factory ship and several catcher/spotting vessels to the Southern Ocean to catch Antarctic minkes under Article VIII of the IWC, which allows the culling of whales for scientific research. The first research program, Japanese Research Program in the Antarctic (JARPA), began in 1987-88, when 273 Antarctic minkes were caught. The quota and catch soon increased to 330 and 440. In 2005-06, the second research program, JARPA II, began. In its first two years, in what Japan called its "feasibility study", 850 Antarctic minkes, as well as 10 fin whales, were to be taken each season (2005–06 and 2006–07). The quota was reached in the first season, but due to a fire, only 508 Antarctic minkes were caught in the second. In 2007-08, because of constant harassment from environmental groups, they failed to reach the quota again, with a catch of only 551 whales.
The Antarctic minke whale is currently considered Data Deficient by the IUCN red list. However, the IUCN states that the population size is "clearly in the hundreds of thousands".
In 2012, the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission agreed upon population estimates of Antarctic minke stocks. The agreed estimate is 515,000. The Report of the Scientific Committee acknowledged that this estimate is subject to some degree of negative bias because some minke whales would have been outside the surveyable ice edge boundaries.
The Antarctic minke whale is listed on Appendix II  of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). It is listed on Appendix II as it has an unfavourable conservation status or would benefit significantly from international co-operation organised by tailored agreements.
In addition, the Antarctic minke whale is covered by the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region.
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- Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N. (2008). Balaenoptera bonaerensis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 7 October 2008.
- Arnason, U; Gullberg, A; Widegren, B (1993). "Cetacean mitochondrial DNA control region: sequences of all extant baleen whales and two sperm whale species". Mol Biol Evol 10 (5): 960–970. Retrieved July 2007.
- Jarrett, Brett and Shirihai, Hadoram (2006). Whales Dolphins and other Marine Mammals of the World. pp. 62–68. ISBN 0-691-12757-3.
- Risch, D.; Gales, N. J.; Gedamke, J.; Kindermann, L.; Nowacek, D. P.; Read, A. J.; Siebert, U.; Van Opzeeland, I. C.; Van Parijs, S. M.; Friedlaender, A. S. (2014). "Mysterious bio-duck sound attributed to the Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis)". Biology Letters 10 (4): 20140175. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2014.0175.
- Morelle, Rebecca (April 22, 2014). "Mystery of 'ocean quack sound' solved". BBC News. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
- http://iwc.int/cache/downloads/6r8jq8llm4cgso0sc0k000w8c/2012%20SC%20REP.pdf[dead link]
- "Appendix I and Appendix II" of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). As amended by the Conference of the Parties in 1985, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2008. Effective: 5th March 2009.[dead link]
- Official webpage of the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region