The first segment of our minke adventure was a 6-day cruise, which originated on Lizard Island and concluded at Port Douglas. Lizard Island is closer to the prime minke ‘hang-outs’, which are also prime diving locations. The sites consist of several large bombes (coral heads), where the minkes are most likely to congregate during the whale season.
We spent two days at the most popular sites, Lighthouse and The Towers. Lighthouse is a large, tall, singular bommie in the shape of, well, a lighthouse. The Towers consist of two pillar-shaped coral heads, spaced about 100 yards apart. The bases of the structures meet the sandy bottom at 95-100ft, and the peaks are 10-20 ft below the surface. The bommies are decorated by a canopy of colorful corals and sea fans, and are home to thousands of fish and other marine life.
It is a mystery as to why the minkes like to visit these specific bommies. It may be that the structures form recognizable underwater landmarks which make them popular meeting places. It might also be that the boats, divers, and snorkelers who frequent these sites provide endless entertainment for ‘vacationing’ minke whales.
Here are notes & highlights from the trip:
Lighthouse & Pixies (7/6/11)
We enjoyed a sweet, easy dive on the tall pinnacle, watching the fish & sea creatures come to life in the early morning light. The minkes showed up later to swim along the lines in groups of 1 – 4 whales. I was in the water for three hours, however there was a fair amount of waiting between minke visitations. During one particularly busy burst of activity, I saw two stately manta rays flying in tandem through the crowded intersection of minke crossings.
Beto & I took our new underwater camera for a scuba dive after lunch to see how it would perform with only ambient light. I spent the late afternoon with a few timid minkes who swam by the line but were unwilling to get close. Afterward, the boat motored to the Pixies for a dusk dive, where we were surrounded by a plethora of colorful fish & other pixie-like sea critters. During the evening briefing by the researchers we learned that we had encountered 12 different whales that day.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the Pacific…
A few days into our journey, the airlines managed to find and ship Beto’s stranded luggage to Lizard Island. The next hurdle was to get the bags out to our boat on the Barrier Reef.
Thanks to Eye to Eye Marine Encounters, the wayward bags were collected & ferried to our boat by another of their charter vessels on the morning of July 7th. Hooray for Linda Rumney the miracle worker, who made sure the bags were delivered to us on the open seas. Beto was delighted that his gear had arrived!
The Towers (7/7/11)
Our plan to do a morning scuba dive at the Towers was interrupted by a wandering troupe of dwarf minkes. I jumped in to meet a beautiful, young, unblemished minke who was swimming gracefully at the stern of the boat. We were soon joined by four more lovely minkes, and I watched as they swam in glorious formations. I gave them names to identify the whales as individuals: Left Hourglass, Three-spot, Sleek Small-scar, etc. We were able to identify four of the original group as females.
Rays of sunlight penetrated the clear water to create fabulous visibility, and over the course of the morning we experienced many close & personal eye-to-eye minke encounters. At times all 5 whales would swirl underneath and nearby us.
The dwarf minkes appeared to acknowledge & absorb my transmissions of healing energies. I would activate Reiki during quiet times when no whales were visible, and within moments they would approach from the distant blue water to swim towards the line. Some would briefly pause under my hands to soak in the loving intentions.
My favorite moment was when a female minke positioned herself vertically in the water with her nose & chin in front and her body directly underneath me. She looked me in the eye and wiggled her slender cetacean body. I laughed and shook my head– while she shimmied her body with her pectoral fins waving at her sides. It was magnificent!
Another highlight was when a ‘she-minke’ swam by and we simultaneously showed each other our bellies. Very sweet! Five hours and multiple close encounters later, we were all saturated with minke love.
Scuba Diving with Minkes
Eventually the frequency of whale fly-bys decreased and my growling stomach became impossible to ignore. I took a break for lunch and then joined Beto on a scuba dive. We saw a minke on our descent but the visibility had deteriorated so much that she shied away from us in the milky water.
We swam a figure-8 around the towering bommies, and Beto befriended a yellow sea snake. As we were surfacing we saw two minkes; we hovered under the boat as the gentle whales circled us in a slow, lazy pattern. Seeing the whales from under the water added another layer of dimensionality to the minke experience. We admired their silhouettes as they glided between sunbeams filtering down through the ocean ceiling.
After the dive I went right back in the water to enjoy a few more passes by the minkes. Despite the reduced visibility, it was wonderful to see and just ‘be’ with them in their natural environment.
Our boat eventually motored back to Challenger Bay for a relaxing twilight dive. We felt like we were in a dimly lit aquarium and I saw a few of my favorites including tiny pipefish and a pair of scrawled filefish. To conclude the day, a curious but shy minke swam by the boat four times.
A word about Motherly Whale Connections
My ‘specialty’ in terms of whale encounters is the ability to connect with mothers and small calves. Before entering the water, I consciously transmit intentions of peace, admiration, & deep respect to the mother. Then, I then ask her permission to initiate a loving connection with her and baby.
If permission is granted, I quietly slip into the ocean and swim with relaxed control of my body, heart-rate, & breathing. This respectful, serene approach has calmed even some of the more skittish mothers, causing them slow down enough to make a silent, deliberate connection.
When mother whales feel safe and have developed trust, they will often remain in close proximity for an extended period of time. This enables a positive outcome for everyone, because more snorkelers can enter the water once the mother has settled. While the mother whale ‘stays put’, she allows her calf to interact with snorkelers in an environment of calm, loving, & peaceful energy.
The in-water connections I have made with mother whales and their babies are some of the most amazing and memorable experiences of my life. I was looking forward to this with the minkes– so I put out a request to the Universe to send us a momma & calf.
Thwarted Attempts to be with Minkes (7/8 & 7/9/11)
On the journey south to Port Douglas, we stopped at a few dive sites along the way. We had one opportunity to enter the water with minkes… however it was thwarted by the researchers.
Minkes were sighted and they approached our boat, so we slowed– and a few of us geared up to join the whales. I was literally on the swim step with my legs in the water when we were told we couldn’t go in because a mom & calf had been sighted. The researchers claimed that the mothers get ‘spooked’ by people in the water… yet they promptly geared up and got in. Evidently the ‘no swimming rule’ did not apply to researchers.
They assured us that ‘these kinds of encounters’ only last 5 to 10 minutes before the moms leave the vicinity. We watched the encounter from the deck, noticing that the researchers did not stay on the line– but swam after the mom & calf… who were clearly not disrupted by ‘people in the water’, and in fact seemed to initiate contact.
So Close & Yet So Far…
The mom & calf stayed with our boat for over an hour and a half, yet we were restricted from entering the water. Meanwhile, the researchers screamed up to us that this was ‘the best encounter of their lives!’. Well, I’m sure it was… for them.
Those were the last whales seen on the trip, and unfortunately being ‘stuck’ on the surface during the encounter caused my heart to constrict.
Many of the passengers were thrilled to observe the spectacle from the surface. However, as a cetacean-spirit, it was painful to be so close and yet so far from the whales. I felt the energetic pull of the momma minke and it hurt (physically) to be out of the water and away from her. I experienced an extreme heart-squeeze sensation– and had trouble breathing deeply.
I thanked the Universe for sending the momma & calf, but made a note to self to make sure to get in the water immediately in the future when a whale is sighted, before nonsensical rules are applied to deny an outstanding in-water encounter. As the rule reads, if a person is already in the water when a mother/calf approach, you can stay in. Go figure.
Time to Re-set
The trip had been absolutely fantastic and the minke connections spectacular, however my body had difficultly clearing the frustration & sadness resulting from the minke mother & calf ‘non-encounter’. I meditated and remotely connected with the smoky quartz piece to help release the heavy energies, but my body & heart chakra remained constricted. My sense of humor had evaporated, a sure sign that I was really ‘off’.
Fortunately we were heading for Port Douglas for a day, so that I could re-set my energy body in preparation for another week at sea with minkes and researchers.