Swimming with dwarf minke whales

Aug 01, 2012 No Comments by

There’s an air of mystery surrounding the elusive yet curious dwarf minke whale.

“Where they go to exactly, no one yet knows,” explains Dr Matt Curnock from James Cook University.

“They seem to love the northern waters of the Coral Sea for just a few weeks every year and then simply disappear. No one has yet tagged them so they simply disappear off our radar.”

Getting up close and personal with huge marine mammals underwater, especially whales, was something I’d always dreamt of doing. So the overwhelming allure of something as mystical as the dwarf minke whales was impossible to resist.

Swimming with dwarf minke whales

The Experience

This year was my chance – I headed out on a liveaboard boat from Cairns to swim with the minkes for the first time.

Mike Ball Dive Expeditions and Eye-to-Eye Marine Encounters offer specific liveaboard trips that travel to the waters where minkes might be found. I have to emphasise the word ‘might’ as they obviously choose to turn up or not!

With spotters on top of the boat and the captain telling us what to look out for, it wasn’t long before the cry rang out: “MINKE!”

The crew threw out long snorkel lines from the stern, we squeezed into our wetsuits and grabbed cameras and floated out away from the boat – this was a moment not to be missed!

As soon as I dropped my head into the water I spotted a long dark shadow way below me. Was that one of them? By the time I focused again it had gone.

Scanning from side to side suddenly I saw a flash of white from its belly! There it was: a serenely beautiful, perfectly streamlined minke whale. I totally forgot I had my camera with me at first, hypnotised by the majesty of something so big and so close.

As the whale’s confidence grew it passed closer and closer, sometimes only an arm’s length away.

Looking directly into the eye of this stunning creature is something that will stay with me forever. As it passed by, the eyeball rotated and I’m sure for just a second we both shared the same thought – ‘hello creature from another world’!

The Result

Seeing any whale in the water is a sight to behold. Hearing them singing when you’re diving underwater takes it to another level. But floating alongside them as they swim by, singing back at them through my snorkel is a moment that will stay with me forever.

Did you know?

Dwarf minke whales:

- Weren’t spotted on the Great Barrier Reef until the mid 1980′s
- Grow to around eight metres long and live to 60 years old
- Visit the Great Barrier Reef for just a few weeks each year in June and July
- Are one of the fastest whales, travelling at speeds of up to 22 kilometres per hour
- Are baleen feeders like humpbacks, feeding on krill or small fish
- Have white and grey markings along their sides that are unique to each whale
- Have one calf each year measuring two metres at birth
- Only wean their calves for around six months, the shortest for any cetacean
- Count birthdays by the number of waxy layers in their ears – urghhhh!

Ben Swimming with dwarf minke whales

, snorkelling, tropical-north, whales

About

African adventurer, Best Job in the World winner, Queensland Tourism Ambassador, Best Expedition in the World. What's next? Life is what you make it!