Swim with dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef

Encounter curious dwarf minke whales on a citizen science expedition to the remote outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef and participate in underwater research.

Where are minke whales found?

Minke Whales are found in all oceans in the world. The Minkes are the second smallest of the baleen whales, are one of the most abundant whale species, and a target of today’s whaling industry.

Dwarf minke whales visit the northern Great Barrier Reef each austral winter, forming the only known predictable aggregation of these whales in the world.

This sub-species of minke, Balaenoptera acutorostrata, was first noticed in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in the late 1970s, and dwarf minke whales were only recognised as a distinct sub-species in the mid-1980s.

Field studies formally began in 1996 as part of the Minke Whale Project yet there is still much to learn. It is believed they congregate on the Reef to socialise and court.

Image: Google Earth 2020

Minke whale appearance

Growing up to eight metres and weighing several tonnes, dwarf minke whales have the most complex colour patterns of all baleen whales. The subtle variations in these markings can be used much like a human fingerprint to distinguish between individual whales.

Minke whale behaviour

It is believed that approximately 60 to 80 minke whales congregate in the waters off Queensland’s northern Ribbon Reefs during the cooler months of June and July. Minkes are exceptionally inquisitive and often approach divers and snorkelers, occasionally interacting for extended periods.

The reasons why these dwarf minkes return each year to the same locations in the northern Great Barrier Reef remains unknown. It is possible that the minkes aggregate in these protected waters for breeding purposes as courtship behaviours are frequently observed.

One individual minke that was regularly identified from 2005 to 2007 is known as ‘Pavlova’. Appropriately named after the famous Russian ballerina, this whale became renown for her distinctive behavioural displays, including ‘pirouetting’ vertically in front of swimmers.

Marine wildlife conservation

By participating in a minke swim with an Australian licensed permit holder, you are supporting the Great Barrier Reef, subsidising minke whale research and furthering our understanding of these magnificent animals by documenting what you see.

“It’s a truly remarkable moment when these big, beautiful whales slowly approach and glide gracefully past. As you come eye-to-eye with them you realise how privileged we are to share the ocean with them” says John Rumney of GBR Legacy.

Swim with curious minke whales on a citizen science expedition in 2021

John Rumney – Conservationist

Having spent the past four decades living and breathing the Great Barrier Reef, John Rumney is a champion for its protection and a leading expert on dwarf minke whales.

A true pioneer of ecotourism on the Great Barrier Reef and one of the region’s great characters, John has received many awards for his environmental leadership and his endeavours have supported hundreds of researchers and raised the standards under which wildlife tourism and diving operates on the Reef.

John and his wife Linda are one of nine Australian permit holders licensed to take visitors into remote sections of the Great Barrier Reef to experience life-changing encounters with the elusive dwarf minke whales. “I’ve done everything with marine animals, but nothing has that connection with nature like the minke whales.”

Citizen science expedition 2021

Coral Expeditions has announced a 10-night Citizen Science Expedition aboard Coral Discoverer in partnership with Australian Geographic and GBR Legacy, departing 30 June 2021. The nature conservation experience explores some of the most remote edges of the outer Reef while offering a rare opportunity to learn and make a difference in coral conservation.

Hosted by some of Australia’s most accomplished reef experts including Dr Dean Miller from the Australian Geographic Society, John Rumney, co-founder of GBR Legacy, and Dr Charlie Veron, widely known as the ‘Godfather of Coral’, this expedition is for those wanting to participate in real scientific research projects, assisting in the identification and behavioural observations of individual whales.

Expedition highlights

  • Immerse yourself in one of the world’s great seascapes with the Great Barrier Reef experts – Dr Charlie Veron, Dr Dean Miller, and John Rumney
  • Swim, snorkel or dive at remote Osprey Reef, the Ribbon Reefs and over the giant clam gardens at Lizard Island
  • Spot iconic marine species of the Great Barrier Reef
  • Participate in our efforts to conserve the Great Barrier Reef – coral species collection with Dr Dean Miller for the Living Coral Biobank
  • Learn about marine reptiles at the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island
  • Stay dry and enjoy our Marine Biologist provide interpretive Glass Bottom Boat tours to observe the vibrant colours and marine species of the untouched outer Great Barrier Reef
GBR Legacy team host a citizen science expedition in 2021

GBR Legacy team