As I slip into the water, a wave crashes over my head and I inhale a mouthful of water. I gasp and try to catch my breath. I recover quickly and make my way over to one of the swim ropes hanging from the back of the boat. The water is choppy and I am wishing I could wear my scuba gear so I could hang below the surface where it is calm, but I have been told the best interactions occur while snorkelling. I cling onto the rope and my body swishes around like I am in a washing machine. All I see is clear blue water and I wonder if I will be lucky enough to see one…
“Gooood Morning! Wakey wakey” booms our trip director Kerrin, who is walking the halls of our diving liveaboard. This must mean it’s 6:30 am and day 2 of my husband’s Dean and my diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef. I am not ready to get out of my warm comfortable bed, the only thing motivating me is I know we are heading to a dive site called Light House Bommie, and on the way, there is a high possibility of us encountering a Dwarf Minke Whale.
I roll out of bed, head to the top deck and see Martha (who is our onboard Senior Research Officer for Minke Whales). She is actively scanning the water hoping to catch a glimpse of a whale. She has joined our expedition to not only help spot Dwarf Minke Whales but also research the behaviours of this little known species.
I take a seat on one of the sun lounges when Martha excitedly exclaims “Lookout to your left, there’s a whale over there”. I jump up and follow her line of sight just in time to see a whale’s dorsal fin peek out of the water.
The Captain cuts the engine and lets the boat drift in the hope that it will entice the whale to come closer. We are in luck! When word gets out about the whale sighting, there is a flurry of activity on the dive deck. The swim ropes are thrown out behind the boat and everyone gears up to get into the water.
I make my way down to the dive deck, wriggle into my damp wetsuit, and put on my mask, snorkel and fins. I am itching to get into the water as I am on a mission to see that whale before it disappears. I slide into the water and make my way over to the swim rope all while trying to recall the Minke Whale briefing Martha gave us last night.
Taking photos and videos (without flash) is encouraged as it helps identify the whales, capture their behaviours and location. But we need to remember to contain our excitement, as we can’t make a lot of noise, any sudden movements, swim towards or touch the whales.
A wave rolls over my snorkel and I inhale taking in a large gulp of seawater. I have a brief choking episode and am spluttering trying to catch a breath. It looks like I have already broken the rule about not making a lot of noise, and I hope I haven’t scared the whale away. I quickly recover and hang onto the swim rope. I gaze into the clear blue water. I see nothing but the faces of other hopeful snorkellers.
My husband, Dean suddenly yanks on the swim rope. I spin around and look at him. He is excitedly pointing into the blue and has the Go Pro out filming. But I can’t see what he is pointing at. A few seconds pass and I see a faint white spot in the distance. While I know it is probably a whale, I am short-sighted so I can’t really tell what it is.
I then catch something out the corner of my eye and look straight beneath me. And that’s when I see not ONE, but FOUR whales gracefully gliding through the water! They are swimming over and under one another in a beautiful synchronised display. And they are coming close enough for me to see them clearly – which means they must be really close! There is no one “best place” to be on the rope. The whales are very inquisitive and inclusive. They swim back and forth the length of the swim ropes. They swim up close to the surface then down deep out of sight. Then just when I think they have gone, they reemerge. We all just hang on the rope staring at the whales in awe. I am so captivated that I forget how choppy the surface is, how cold I am, and I lose all concept of time (what I thought was 20 mins was actually 2 hours). One whale swishes past my head, so close I could have reached out and touched it.
After 2 hours we reluctantly leave the water as we need to go to our next dive site. As we warm up over a big breakfast and chat with our fellow snorkellers, we all agree that the whales seem as intrigued by us, as we are by them. We joke that the reason that the whales migrate to the Great Barrier Reef every June and July is to witness the phenomenon that is us, humans, swimming in the waters.
To get to the Great Barrier Reef, fly to Cairns International and domestic airport. Cairns city centre is a 10 min drive from the airport.
Touring & Staying there:
A limited number of operators have permits that allow swimming with the Minke Whales between June and July. Minke Whale interactions are available on liveaboards and are suitable for snorkellers and divers.
- Tanks, air fills and weight belt
- Other gear
- Reef tax
For a full list of inclusions and exclusions refer to the websites below. Note the list below are some examples of operators offering this experience and is not an extensive list.
Mike Ball, 3,4 and 7 night liveaboards available. Phone +61740530500. See https://www.mikeball.com/liveaboard-scuba-diving-australia/minke-whale-dive-expeditions/
Fly/dive packages include a scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef.
Divers Den, 5D4 night Minke Whale Expedition. Phone +61740467333. See https://www.diversden.com.au/minke-whale-expeditions.html
Spirit of Freedom, 3 Day Cod Hole & Ribbon Reefs (Swim with Minke Whales). Phone +61740479150. See https://www.spiritoffreedom.com.au/trips/swim-with-minke-whales. Also inclusive of a scenic flight.
Book your place for 2020 trips early. Call for pricing.
About the Author
Amanda Bolzan and her husband Dean Samuels have been certified divers since 2009. Amanda has her advanced open water and Dean is a dive master. They have travelled the world and dived many sites in Australia, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
Amanda and Dean have a travel blog called Scatabout which details the fun and unique experiences they have had on their world travels. You can find them doing something adventurous like scuba diving, hiking or something strange like running down the side of a building.
You can follow Scatabout: