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Rob and Oonagh Prettejohn, owners of Thala Beach Lodge, have just returned from an eye-popping 6 days on the Outer Barrier Reef. Dwarf Minke Whales congregate at this time of the year and go out of their way to satisfy their curiosity about humans bobbing about on the surface ! Rob and Oonagh said time and again these beautiful whales approached them.
“Just a truly wonderful experience! Suspended in clear deep- blue water, they eased themselves closer and closer on each pass. Such powerful and beautiful animals. Graceful, agile, well mannered and always they closed in with extraordinary gentleness.”
Twice they had very close approaches at less than a metre.
“Soon you feel as if you are swimming with old friends. Once they have your trust, some of the outgoing personalities put on personal displays raising their heads out of the water, pirouetting and seductively presenting their gorgeous white bellies.”
Rob ( nick named Mr Minke ) was the first person ever to record these astonishing animals after jumping into the ocean with them off the Great Barrier Reef in August 1981. Now enthusiastic researchers led by the lively Professor Alastair Birtles from James Cook University are collecting a wealth of data: It would appear these cetaceans are likely to be declared an entirely new species. They are recognized as the most colorful of all the baleen whales. Each animal has a unique pattern which researchers use to identify individuals. Some have been returning to the same area for many years.
“it was a magical moment in my life…. this time the raw emotions of that first encounter came flooding back. I know of no other wild animal that is so immediately and delightfully engaging. We have so much in common with them and we share a burning curiosity about each other”
“I tremble with revulsion when I think that these friendly whales may find themselves aligned with a harpoon. However, there is good news on this front. Alastair says there are many young Japanese taking an active interest in Dwarf Minke conservation so hopefully we are seeing a generational change in attitudes.”
Rob and Oonagh travelled with ‘Eye to Eye Encounters’ .
This is a joint research and ecotourism venture started and run by a dedicated local couple John and Linda Rumney. They coordinate the vessel, Elizabeth EII…great vessel great crew, the researchers from JCU led by Professor ‘Minke’ … Alastair Birtles and fare-paying passengers who share a common interest in whales. Having John and Alastair onboard sharing their knowledge added an extra rich dimension to the whole experience.
“It is brilliant and inspirational” Rob says
“If you get the chance to go don’t hesitate!” adds Oonagh
Checkout some of these photographs taken on the trip: