From Lizard, we cruised for a couple of hours to the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef, specifically Ribbon Reef 10, one of the spots minkes gather every June and July. No one knows why they come, or where they spend the rest of the year. What is known is that they seem as curious about us as we are about them.
|Spot the minke
They can be up to 7 metres long, but their dorsal fins are the size of bottlenose dolphin fins, they don't linger on the surface when they come up to breathe and they don't raise their tail flukes (like other whales) when they dive.
|Swimming with potato cod
We sat on deck watching for whales (fortified by cinnamon shortbread, thanks Chef). Went "extreme snorkelling" in waves big enough to bodysurf and currents that swept us about like flotsam. Swam with other creatures: green turtles, potato cod, sea snakes, reef sharks, Nemo-like anemonefish, spinner dolphins.
|A beautiful dwarf minke
|Swimming with minkes!
They came one by one at first, then in groups, getting closer the longer they spent with us. One did a tail-stand a few metres from us, and a slow, mid-ocean pirouette. Another (see pic below) surfaced near me. At one time I counted eight minkes around and below us.
It felt surreal to be so close to these gentle giants. Unlike more boisterous dolphins and sea lions, the minkes were stately and serene as they glided slowly by, looking at us with large, brown eyes. "There's no other large animal on Earth that keeps going around for hours and hours, looking at you," said Alastair later.
|Eye to eye with a wild minke
To cap it off, Alastair made us all honorary Friends of the Minke Whale Project that night, for our perseverence. Actually I think the three days of anticipation before we saw the whales made it all the more special. Well played, minkes.
PS: For a virtual "swimming with minkes" experience, watch Dr Dean Miller's 15-minute doco A Whale of a Time (Dean was on our boat too).
Newsflash: While we were swimming with minkes last week, South Korea announced plans to resume "scientific" whaling of them. I'm happy to report that they've now reversed that decision, in the face of strong international opposition.