3 Day / 3 Night - Swim with Minke Whales & Ribbon Reefs Dive Adventure
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. Spirit of Freedom, as an endorsed tourism operator, hold a permit from GBRMPA to offer a Swimming with Whales activity.
During the months of June and July, divers and snorkellers may have the opportunity to interact with dwarf minke whales in the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef. This is a unique and remarkable encounter. Our swim with minke whale trips are basically a modified version of our 3 Day / 3 Night Cod Hole trips. We spend lots of time exploring the amazing dive sites of the remote Ribbon Reef, with an underlying focus at all times to maximise in-water encounters with the whales.
Any of our three-day trip departures during June and July can be booked for the chance of a minke whale encounter.
Departs Cairns 12:00 noon Thursday
Returns Cairns 12:00 noon Sunday
Includes Transfers to/from your Cairns city hotel
Lizard Island to Cairns scenic flight
Opportunity for up to 11 dives
En suite cabin with daily service
Chef-prepared gourmet meals (Australian style)
Australian wines & soft drinks with evening meals
Dive Level Recommendation Swim with whale encounters are suitable for snorkellers. No dive experience or certification required.
These tours are strictly seasonal, to coincide with the whales’ migration.
When operating, these tours begin on a Thursday, departing from Cairns and heading north to the rarely visited Ribbon Reefs. Over two and half days you will have the opportunity for up to 11 dives and as much in-water swim time with the whales, as we can manage. Your last night is spent on board the ‘Spirit’ in the bay at Lizard Island. Enjoy time ashore at Lizard Island the next morning, before boarding your return flight to Cairns. The one-hour flight back will bring you back to Cairns around 12:00pm on Sunday.
Dwarf Minke Whales on the Ribbon Reefs
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 snorkellers, at times as close to up to a metre away. We usually encounter whales alone or in family groups of two or three, but sometimes see larger pods of eight or more.
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 usually weighing 5-6 tonnes. They have a characteristic white band on each flipper, contrasting with their very dark grey top colour. These and other patch-like markings can be used to identify different individuals. They have two blowholes, like all baleen whales.
The minkes do 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 to a single calf on their northward journey. Newborn calves are approximately 3 metres in length and weigh 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. Minke whales are known to breach, but not quite as spectacularly as the humpback whale, which is 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 take place on a ‘voluntary approach’ basis by the minke whale. Most 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 strict guidelines from GBRMPA on how to behave during an encounter, to ensure the safety and protection of the whales.
The Minke Whale Project, run by James Cook University, continues to gather data and further the research into the dwarf minke whale. We still know comparatively little about their migratory paths, feeding grounds or biological behaviour.
Collaboration between the Minke Whale Project research team and Swim With Whale endorsed operators like Spirit of Freedom has led to guidelines and a Code of Practice being developed. This ensures sustainable practices and protective measures, allowing for a safe interaction for both divers and whales.
Spirit of Freedom hosts volunteer minke whale researchers on our Cod Hole trips during the minke season to assist in the gathering of data. Our crew and guests are encouraged to participate in this research by documenting encounters, participating in questionnaires and donating photographic or video data to aid in the identification of individual whales.
Spirit of Freedom is proactive in supporting the Minke Whale Project with the collection of voluntary donations, to further research projects such as the tagging and tracking of dwarf minke whales. We have pledged to go ‘dollar for dollar’ by matching our guests’ donations.