Minke Whale Dive Expeditions - A unique opportunity on the Great Barrier Reef
Dwarf minke whales travel through the Great Barrier Reef each winter, with most sightings occurring during June and July. The Great Barrier Reef is the only location where snorkel and dive tours with minke whales are available and Mike Ball Dive Expeditions is one of a handful of operators licenced to operate them. Most sightings occur at Ribbon Reef # 10, where some of our best dive sites are.
Swimming with minkes – an incredible experience!
It is a truly remarkable moment when these big, beautiful whales slowly approach you and glide gracefully past. As you come eye to eye with these amazing marine creatures you’ll realise just how privileged we are to share the ocean with them.
Minke expeditions are suitable for both snorkelers and scuba divers. The close up whale action combined with excellent winter visibility on the Ribbon Reefs makes for great diving. A code of practice is in place to manage safety for both divers and whales, providing the maximum opportunity to see whales at very close range while ensuring the whales interact on their terms. Most diver and whale interactions occur while snorkeling.
The itinerary is dictated by the whales, visiting areas of high minke activity and our key dive sites. The number of scuba dives advertised is the approximate number of dives provided but may vary to enable our whale focused itinerary. Since commencing Minke Whale Expeditions in 1996 we have had a 98% success rate. The largest pod seen was 28 whales, the longest encounter was 10 hours. Every day has a high probability of whale encounters. If we are not able to locate whales at our usual sites, up to two hours at a time is spent searching for whales further afield. If none are sighted, we will dive as many of the Ribbon Reef sites as possible.
Dwarf minkes whales grow up to eight metres in length, weigh several tonnes and are very inquisitive. An average interaction consist of 2- 3 whales for approximately 90 minutes. The largest minke pod seen was 28 whales, the longest encounter 10 hours. However, minke whales are wild animals and can be unpredictable; past success does not guarantee future success.
Research is continuing to define the exact species of the dwarf minke whale that visits the Great Barrier Reef. There are two known species of minke whales, the North Atlantic minke whale and the slightly larger Antarctic minke whale. It is thought that the Great Barrier Reef dwarf minke whale is related to the North Atlantic minke, or is an un-named species.
2017 will be the 22nd year Mike Ball Dive Expeditions have supported the James Cook University Minke MWP (Minke Whale Project). A James Cook University MWP researcher is present on all our minke expeditions. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions have conducted more swim with minke whale experiences than any other company. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions has been a proud participant of the James Cook University MWP project since 1996, and was one of the first operators licenced to run Swim with Whales encounters. Minke season quickly became our most exciting dive season for guests and crew!
It has been an exciting process, from the grass roots level to receiving the “World’s Best Practice Swim-with-Whales Ecotourism Management Model” award. The first year we even hired spotter planes to find the whales however we soon learnt it was unnecessary as generally the inquisitive dwarf minke whales would approach vessels and linger for a long time swimming closer and closer. We had a mutual interest in each other!
All guests are able to participate in the dwarf minke whale research by using the dwarf minke whale data forms to record whale observations and for the photographers to share their photos with the minke whale photo database.
Minke Whales Tagged & Tracked on the Great Barrier Reef in World First
Although the Great Barrier Reef is the only place where the annual arrival of dwarf minke whales can be predicted, it was unknown where they depart to. On July 13th & 14th 2013, in a world first, 4 minkes were attached with tracking tags. A month later a young male called ‘Spot’ had travelled almost 3000km to the continental shelf off Sydney. The other 3 minkes were being successfully tracked and recorded in various locations behind ‘Spot’. The final transmission was received from deep in the Subantarctic.
One on the MWP researchers and tagging team leaders Dr Matt Curnock said that the North Queensland dive tourism industry had collaborated very closely with researchers from the Minke Whale Project. “This new research will help establish some of the risks and threats that the whales face when they leave the Great Barrier Reef”.
The Future, Can You Help?
With ‘proof of concept’ now established, the Minke Whale Project team are ready to tackle the big questions that are key to the conservation of this species. All we need now is the funding.
Sponsorship is needed. Funding is needed to find the answers to long-standing questions about this species.
Key research objectives include:
- Mapping migratory paths
- Identifying critical habitat and potential feeding grounds
- Identifying risks and threats beyond the protected waters of the Great Barrier Reef. We are seeking a minimum of AUD$150,000 per year for a three year project to conduct this comprehensive research program.
These funds will go towards:
- Partial salary for a postdoctoral researcher
- Satellite tag and equipment purchase
- Satellite data retrieval and analyses
- Photo-identification catalogue development
- Fieldwork travel and essential equipment. Extensive and essential in-kind support has already been achieved, including:
- Access to a vessel with state-of-the-art marine acoustic tracking equipment
- Access to swim-with ecotourism vessels
- In-kind salary from project chief investigators. Project collaboration with a natural history documentary production is also anticipated in 2014. Interested? We’d love to hear from you! We can provide a detailed project description and budget for your perusal. Major sponsors of this research will also be invited to participate in a trip to swim with dwarf minke whales in the Great Barrier Reef (June-July, ex. Cairns or Port Douglas) and observe the research activities first-hand.