Expedition Eye to Eye: Swimming with Giants

June 20, 2013 — July 29, 2013

Adventure For Change has just spent 4 weeks studying Dwarf Minke Whales on the Great Barrier Reef. The team joined Minke Whale Project scientists and tourism operator Eye to Eye Marine Encounters on an epic voyage of discovery into the lives of the 'world's friendlist whale'.

 Expedition Summary

When & Where? The expedition ran throughout the 'minke whale season' from June 20 - July 15, 2013 and involved diving and snorkelling at some of the most remote and beautiful regions of the Far Northern Great Barrier Reef. 

How? Eye to Eye Marine Encounters (Eye to Eye) is an adventure and wildlife tour company that specialises in 4-6 day Swim With Whale expeditions. Uniquely, this operator also gives away free space to researchers to conduct their fieldwork whilst on board. This season Eye to Eye used the “Undersea Explorer”, a purpose built research vessel served as our home for the entire voyage.  With an eclectic mix of scientists, paying passengers, filmmakers and crew on board this was definitely a trip we will never forget.

Why? It’s only after we see things for ourselves that we can start to make a difference, and that is what Adventure for Change is all about! We hope that by sharing our experiences across different media platforms we will help educate and inspire positive action in others.  

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 Week One Summary

 

Adventure For Change has just wrapped up our first week studying dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef in a unique collaboration with with Minke Whale Project and Eye to Eye Marine Encounters.  We had an incredible time, collected valuable data on whale behaviour and population dynamics and came away with a new appreciation and passion for these friendly creatures. 

Research Summary

The Adventure For Change team was very fortunate to observe dwarf minke whales every day we were at sea. Encounters ranged from energetic breaching (animals jumping whole or part way out of the water) to surreal moments spent gazing into the eyes of a 6 tonne ocean denizen. Over the course of the week we spent a total of 11 hours and 23 minutes engaged in minke whale observations and drifted over 11.3 nautical miles with them through open ocean.

Dwarf minke whales are the most heavily patterned of all the baleen whales, which allowed us to identify individuals based on their colouration and scars. We positively identified 40 animals, at least one of which had been sighted before (10 July, 2011). Some of the interesting behaviours we witnessed were bubble blasts (when the whale releases a burst of air from it's blowhole underwater), belly presentations, multiple barrel rolls, headrises and very close approaches (<1m)!

Additional Sightings

Other highlights of the trip included visits from spinner dolphins, sea snakes, reef sharks, turtles, manta rays and a red-footed booby who found a nice warm spot to rest his weary wings - a passenger's arm on the top deck.

More photos and video coming soon. We can't wait to see what the next week will bring......

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 Expedition Summary - Week 2/3

What an exciting few weeks we have had! Passionate researchers, enthusiastic guests and whales galore! According to one Eye to Eye Marine Encounters guest this was the “best minke whale trip in 11 years!!!” Read on to find out why…

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

On the second day our encounters lasted until dusk  - being in the water with the whales during the transition from day to night was like watching a colour picture fade to black and white. The hues became more and more muted until all we could see were the bright white ‘flipper patches’ of whales as they passed by.

When we awoke the following morning minkes were already circling the boat - we wasted no time in joining them! They stayed with us for many hours, growing more and more confident over time. Everyone was lucky enough to experience a 'very close pass' which is defined as when a whale swims within one meter of you! That;s pretty damn close when we are talking about a 6 tonne animal!

By holding onto a rope our movements become predictable and the whales trust in us grows. Sometimes they approach within an arm's length (however we are strict believers in the 'look don't touch' policy as aside from being against the law we do not want to startle the animals or aid in any potential disease transmission)

A huge amount of research has been completed over the past few weeks. Along with HD video and photography our most valuable tools in the field are these waterproof clipboards and range finders (yellow) which allow us to make notes of key markings and record each animal's length

We were thrilled to document some unusual behviours while we were with the whales. This included ‘lunge gulps' (usually only seen while feeding), spy-hops, pirouettes, bubble blasts (pictured) and lots of vocalisations!

http://youtu.be/CfbByA9ZAf8

Our trip highlight was the positive identification of ‘Strumpet’ a female whale not seen since 2005 (8 years)! This sighting is significant in a number of ways:

1.) It is the longest re-sighting in the project's 18 year history!

2.) Strumpet may have been accompanied by a yearling calf which provides us with clues on dwarf minke        reproductive strategies/capabilities.

3.) Up until now it was thought that sub-adult animals were the predominate group interacting with people. However, Strumpet’s insatiable curiosity at such an advanced age raises new questions for our research team.

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Locations visited

Lizard Island

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