Minke whales visit Port Douglas

Minke whales visit  Port Douglas

Yesterday, Dr Alastair Birtles, leader of the Dwarf Minke Whale Project of James Cook University, gave a talk on these whales, which are seen on the Great Barrier Reef every year, mainly in the winter months.

Dwarf Minke Whales are an undescribed sub-species and very little is actually known about them. They are known only from the Southern Hemisphere. The only time they have been observed is when they visit the Great Barrier Reef but no-one knows what they do or where they go for the nine months of the year when they’re not here.

The largest Dwarf Minke Whale measured was 7.8m and they can weigh up to 5 or 6 tonnes. This is smaller than the Northern Hemisphere Minke Whale by about 2 m, but still a very large animal to encounter while you’re snorkelling, which can happen here on the Great Barrier Reef!

Encounters with whales have been banned in most countries of the world, but are still allowed here, although only 9 boats have permits and they are strictly regulated. The only way to ban encounters with Dwarf Minke Whales would be to ban all diving and snorkelling during the winter months, because these whales are extremely inquisitive and studies show that they’re probably as interested in observing us as we are in observing them.

An encounter with a Dwarf Minke Whale can last for about two hours, with the animals often coming very close to humans in the water, even as near as 1 metre or less. Fortunately, they have terrific spatial and distance judgement and are totally non-threatening.