20 things you didn’t know about dwarf minke whales

Want to know what it’s like to come face-to-face with a dwarf minke whale? Dive instructor Shona Whittaker knows just the place to explore the underwater sanctuary of the Great Barrier Reef.

If Shona could live under the sea, she would. Hailing from New Zealand, the would-be mermaid has spent much of her young life diving and exploring some of the most beautiful coves on earth, but it wasn’t until over a year ago that she landed her ultimate dream job, living and working on the Great Barrier Reef.

Dive into a magical underwater paradise with Shona and discover 20 things about the elusive species that is the dwarf minke whale.

Image by Matt Curnock

Image by Matt Curnock

1. Queensland is the only place in the world where humans can interact with them. From sharks and turtles, to Maori wrasse and manta rays, you can swim with almost every species that resides on the Great Barrier Reef, including minke whales. And, Ribbon Reefs in Tropical North Queensland is where you can get up close and personal with these majestic animals.

2. It’s a short and sweet visit. Showing up on the reef every winter, the minke whales only stay in town for a few months. They are the only known predictable aggregation in the world!

3. The minke whale migration through the Great Barrier Reef was only discovered in the mid-1980’s.

4. They can grow up to eight metres in length. That’s almost as long as a double-decker bus (8.38m)!

5. They have one calf each year which are born at approximately two metres long. That’s longer than the height of a baby giraffe.

Image by Vanessa Hunt

Image by Vanessa Hunt

6. Like fingerprints are to humans, the white and grey markings on the sides of a minke whale are unique to each whale, making each one different from the next!

7. They live to approximately 60 years old!

8. They may not be the oldest, but minke whales are one of the fastest types of whales. They can travel at speeds greater than 20 knots (more than 30km per hour), which is fast for a whopping whale!

9. Like humpback whales, minke whales are baleen feeders. This means they munch on krill and small fish with their comb-like rows of bristles which allow water to flow through but traps their food.

10. One way to tell how old a minke whale is by counting the waxy layers in their ears (eww, gross!)

Image by Vanessa Hunt

Image by Vanessa Hunt

11. Mother minke whales wean their calves after approximately six months.

12. Minke whales typically come to the surface to breathe every two and a half minutes, but can stay under water for more than 12 minutes. The sperm whale can hold their breath for a whopping 90 minutes!

13. The average gestation period for dwarf minke whales is 10 months.

14. Adult minke whales can weigh up to six tonnes!

15. These whales rarely have predators, however, can be preyed upon by packs of killer whales and some large sharks.

Image by Matt Curnock

Image by Matt Curnock

16. When underwater you can hear the minke whales singing to each other, which is their main form of communication. If you have ever wanted to speak whale to an actual whale, here is your chance!

17. Mike Ball Dive ExpeditionsEye to Eye Marine Encounters, Deep Sea Divers Den, and Spirit of Freedom are among a limited number of permitted tours that offer snorkelling and diving trips out to the reef where minkes are found! Departing Cairns, trips range from four to seven nights and include up to a massive 22 dives. There are also three day vessels who depart from Port Douglas such as Calypso, Silver Sonic, and Poseidon that have permits to swim with the whales, but encounter them only sporadically.

18. The friendly creatures are the focus of a collaborative research effort between local tourism operators and James Cook University.

19. The tours allow visitors to contribute directly to ongoing research including photo-identification, behaviour research and conservation efforts with the minke whales.

20. There are strict guidelines in place for swimming with dwarf minke whales to ensure that these interactions are sustainable. Therefore, the combined conservation efforts of the operators and visitors are important to the continuation of the whales making their annual journey through the Great Barrier Reef.

Have you had the pleasure of swimming with Dwarf Minke Whales in Tropical North Queensland?