DWARF MINKE WHALES - SPIRIT OF FREEDOM
There are few opportunities in a lifetime where you can experience the thrill of sharing the water with a creature as magnificent as a whale. In Far North Australia, during the months of June and July, divers may have the opportunity to interact with Dwarf Minke Whales in the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
Each year these graceful creatures migrate to the stretch of reefs south of Lizard Island, known as the Ribbon Reefs. The inquisitive nature of the Minke Whale brings them close to boats in the region to linger with divers and snorkelers, at times as close to up to a metre away. The whales are mostly encountered alone or in family groups of two or three, but can be in groups of up to eight.
The Dwarf Minke whale is the smallest baleen whale, identified by about 50-70 throat grooves. The largest Dwarf Minke whale that was accurately measured was 7.8 m (25 feet) long with adults weighing 5-6 tonnes. They have a characteristic white band on each flipper, contrasting with its very dark grey top color. These and other markings can be used to identify different individuals. They have two blowholes, like all baleen whales.
The Minke does not feed on the Great Barrier Reef, but fatten up on krill in the rich waters of the Antarctic before their annual migration. Many pregnant females will give birth on their northward journey, the single calf being approximately 3 metres in length and weighing 300kg.
Minkes display some extraordinary behaviour such as spy hopping, where they lift their head out of the water and observe the boats above the surface. Often they are seen tail-slapping the water, which may be an acoustic signal to other whales in the vicinity. Minkes are known to breach, but not quite as the Humpback Whale, which are also seen on the Great Barrier Reef in the winter months.
On board Spirit of Freedom divers and snorkellers have encountered Minke Whales on the Ribbon Reefs in June and July. These encounters have been ‘a voluntary approach’ by the Minke Whale. Most of the Minke Whale encounters have been around the boat where the whales may linger or circle to interact with people as they return to the boat after a dive. The voluntary approach to the vessel and swimmers by Minke whales creates a unique in-water experience. Spirit of Freedom crew brief all guests on guidelines from GBRMPA on how to behave to ensure the safety and protection of the Minke Whales.
Much research has been done by James Cook University into the Minke Whales, from which guidelines and a Code of Practice have been developed to ensure sustainable and protective measures for Swim With Minke Whale participants. Further information can be found at www.minkewhaleproject.org and www.gbrmpa.gov.au.
Extract from trip report, July 2011.
"Graceful" "Acrobatic" "Curious" "Dancing " were words chosen by our divers to describe the Dwarf Minke Whales after diving and snorkelling with them at 3 separate sites during the trip. On one occasion we were fortunate enough to be able to watch the interaction between a mother and her calf. Calves are around 2 meters at birth and are weaned at approx 6 months old. Snorkellers were also treated to playful "bubble blasts" by the whales, who released sudden clouds of bubbles directly under them, a once in a life time whale Jacuzzi, not to be found in any other spa, no matter how exclusive!