We conducted 239.5 h and 3,494 km of cetacean surveys in the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas, from 15 February to 31 March 1994; most of the area, the large portion of which was ice covered, had never before nor has it since been surveyed for cetaceans, even to the date when this paper was prepared (2006). Logistic regression and an information-theoretic approach related the occurrence of Antarctic minke whales Balaenoptera bonaerensis (the most abundant species) to whether we were in open- or pack-ice-covered pelagic or neritic waters, in or out of the marginal ice zone (MIZ), and north or south of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current southern boundary. Other variables included date and distance to the MIZ and shelfbreak front. Statistical analysis showed that the probability of sighting a minke, as well as killer whale—but not the case for an index to whale density—was related to the proximity of coastal polynyas in early autumn, switching offshore to the MIZ once waters within the pack began to freeze persistently later in the season. Probability of detection was higher with distance into the MIZ. Supporting these findings, the density index was strongly related to ice concentration in an inverse relationship. The strong relationship to polynyas and the MIZ indicate that sea-ice divergence altered by decadal or longer-term climate change, as described in the recent literature, could well affect any apparent, long-term trends evident in this species' abundance if surveyed only in open or near-to-ice waters. We speculate on how the minke whale's pagophilic nature (1) could have been encouraged by large-scale industrial whaling and by competition with species more characteristic of open waters and the outer MIZ, and (2) may have protected the population somewhat during industrial whaling resulting in the much greater abundance of this species now compared to other targeted species.