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All images shot with Nikon D2X in a Subal Housing large whales cruising the reef.

It was an amazing feeling to sense the presence of a large Minke, see the shadow of its body cross over mine, and look up and only 20 feet away was this magnificent creature. As part of the research, I was allowed to go in the water of scuba to photograph the whales. Although we were told that the whales were most likely sensitive to divers bubbles, my experience while on scuba was that there was little change in their behavior as long as I was calm in the water, kept perfect buoyancy, and did not directly approach the whales. I

could hang on the edge of the reef, observe the whales, and hope for that close encounter.

In several very special encounters, as I was swimming slowly back to the hangbar on the

Nimrod, the five whales that had been with us during the dive followed me back seemingly as curious about me and I was about them. As I hovered in the water at about 30 feet the whales made pass after pass around me and I was able to see their large, intelligent eyes assessing me. I wondered what they were thinking.

What the Future Holds

This trip was great adventure and wonderful education and my thoughts, even now, are with the Dwarf Minke whales. Even though Minkes are not endangered and are now the most abundant of the great whales, their populations have been depleted by whaling in the North Atlantic and the western North Pacific, as well as in some parts of the Southern Ocean. At one time it was thought that Minkes might increase in numbers in the Southern Hemisphere because they had increased amounts of food available after the decimation of the larger baleen whales, but there is no evidence that they have increased.

Dwarf Minke whales were taken during commercial whaling in until this ceased in 1975. Sixteen Dwarf Minke whales were taken in the Japanese research whaling program but since 1993, no takes have been reported to the International Whaling Commission. There is talk that commercial whaling might resume in the Southern Hemisphere and it would target Antarctic Minke whales. It is possible that some Dwarf Minke whales would also be taken incidentally which would have a direct impact on the incredible encounters that we experienced here in the north barrier reef of Australia.

Rod Klein

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