Thursday, December 2, 2010

The minke whale, named after a sailor and whaler with a differently spelled name

Most sources agree that the minke whale is named after a sailor and whaler. Details, however, depend on which references you consult. The sailor is alternatingly German or Norwegian and his name varies from Miencke, Meincke to Meineke. Fortunately, the common name for the whale is consistently given as minke, pronounced “minky.” Use of the short plural form minkes instead of minke whales is common.

The scientific name is Balaenoptera acutorostrata, meaning “winged whale with a sharp-pointed snout.” This whale is found in oceans worldwide. And as it is often the case for such “ubiquitous species,” debates on whether there are just one, two or more species evolve. Distinctions between a northern-hemisphere species, B. acutorostrata, and a southern-hemisphere species, B. bonaerensis, have recently been made.

Minke whale names and synonyms in various languages

Dutch: dwergvinvis
English: minke whale
French: baleine de Minke (also: petit rorqual)
German: Zwergwal (also: Minkwal or Minkewal)
Italian: balenottera minore (also: balenottera rostrata)
Portuguese: baleia-de-minke
Spanish: rorcual aliblanco

Interestingly, the Norsk and German names do not make any reference to a sailor with a Norwegian or German name. Let's assume that this Mr. Miencky never lived or, at least, never hunted a whale. Then, he really deserves to be honored by having a whale species named after him.

Keywords: cetology, Mysticeti, Balaenopteridae, marine mammals, taxonomy


[1] Philip Hoare: The WhaleIn Search of the Giants of the Sea. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010; see Chapter XI The Melancholy Whale.
[2] Save the whales: Minke Whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata (Lacepéde 1804).
[3] NOAA Fisheries, Office of Protected Resources: Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).

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