In Transit Blog: Swimming With the Whales in Australia

Written By wartini cantika on Rabu, 27 Agustus 2014 | 17.36

Photo A humpback whale.Credit Sunreef

As swimming with dolphins, sharks and even whale sharks becomes an increasingly common tourist attraction, Australia's Sunreef dive company is thinking bigger – 80,000 pounds bigger, to be exact.

In a first-of-its-kind excursion on the continent, Sunreef recently launched a swim-with-humpback whales trip, which takes tourists on a three-hour boat ride off of Queensland's Sunshine Coast to snorkel with them.

Boat captains ferry participants to known whale locations, where swimmers jump into the water – from a safe, 100-meter exclusion zone – for an encounter few but marine scientists have experienced.

"Some of the closest encounters have seen whales come up within just a few meters, some of them with calves, and all have swum up and away gently," the  Sunreef spokeswoman Michelle Smytheman said of the early season tours.

Each year, more than 20,000 humpback whales pass by Australia's east coast from July through November as they migrate north from winter feeding grounds near Antarctica to warmer climates for breeding.

Sunreef's trips are supported by whale spotters from the air, so a sighting is nearly guaranteed, although any interactions aren't exactly predictable.

"The experience is 100 percent on the whales' terms," Ms. Smytheman said. Encounters can last 30 minutes or more, depending on the whales' whims, she said. "Sometimes they hang around for ages, and other times they swim up for a look and then move on or just move past without coming closer. The interested whales sometimes swim past and circle around again to take another look."

The Sunreef Whale Encounter Supervisor, Dan Hart, said that he hopes the new tour will benefit visitors as well as the scientific community studying the humpbacks.

The company is working closely with researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast in tracking and recording the whales, he said. Two spots on every boat are kept open for whale researchers, and information gathered on the tours will help ongoing projects – including a forthcoming study by the university on tourists' emotional reactions to the whales.

Sunreef whale swimming tours are 114 Australian dollars ($108) per person, and run through Nov. 11.


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