Dwarf Minke Whales in the Great Barrier Reef

Dwarf Minke Whales in the Great Barrier Reef
Jurgen Freund

It’s been a while since I was out diving and snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef. This time I went with the superb liveaboard “Spoilsport” of the Mike Ball Dive Expeditions during the best time of the year to see minke whales underwater. The weather was amazing with only 10-15 knot winds and about 20-30 whales around the boat mainly at Lighthouse Bommie. Water visibility was a bit challenging for photography but workable. It’s a wonderful experience being back on the minke line and I can’t recommend it enough to everyone to try it even once in their life.


While hanging on the line I was focusing on a minke face to hopefully get a closeup of the head when the whale let go a bubble blast. So I got a sequence of 9 images of the bubble blast which I turned into an animated GIF.

Here is a little write-up from last year by Stella for Sport Diver Magazine on the work of Dr. Alastair Birtles and Dr. Matt Curnock who manages the Friends of the Minke Whales Project:

5 – 7 metre dwarf minke whales make their annual migration to the northern Great Barrier Reef from Antarctica every Australian winter from May to August with June and July accounting for 90% of the sightings. During our very first briefing, James Cook University and CSIRO Minke Whale Project researcher on-board Dr. Matt Curnock said, “this will probably be the most emotionally rewarding encounter with a large animal underwater you will ever have in your life. The whales will come very close to check you out. Don’t panic. Keep calm and still and above all, enjoy how very special this amazing phenomenon is.”

We motored overnight from Cairns to be in the Ribbon Reefs by the morning. Our first dive site was the spectacular reef of Challenger Bay, one of our favourite dive site in the GBR. We were 185 kilometres away from Cairns and it was blowing 30 knots in the Ribbon Reef with waters a chilly 24℃ (75℉). My thick 5mm wetsuit plus hood-vest plus sharkskin thermals were my constant in-water attire. Only when I was warm and toasty underwater could I spend three straight hours with these amazing creatures!

There was no down time, it seemed. Everyday we had minke whales, as we were there at the peak of minke season in early July. With wonderfully prepared meals in between our water activities, the week was all about eating, diving, eating, snorkelling, eating, and snorkelling some more and more eating. Early morning sunrise wake-up calls before breakfast started with “Wakey-wakey! It’s time for diving!” But however wonderful the coral reefs and diving were, we were there for the whales. And every day we would see an average of 8 to 10 minkes. And the wonderful thing was, there was always one that was more curious than others.

We had this one beauty – a young female about 6 metres long, she made continuous passes at everyone on the line. She constantly swam around the boat and back to the snorkelers for two straight hours. She came closer and closer every time until I could see the hairs on her chin! She gave everyone hanging very still on the line a personal scrutiny that was too fantastic for words. Throughout the encounter I tried my best not to move, following the code of conduct briefing to the letter! We were all very still hanging on the line and drifting in the wind with the boat in the blue. It was obvious the whale was in control of these encounters. She looked as if she enjoyed the strong waves caused by the winds too! It was truly remarkable.

When I asked Matt if he ever got blasé with the many minke trips he has been doing, he said, “After 15 years of research and in-water interactions with these whales, when they approach closely and look into your eyes, I still find my heart thumping!”

 Copied, with permission, from Jurgen’s website. Read more stories and view more of his incredible photos here.






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