The Tour Specialists Blog


Whale Watching & Swim With Whale Tours from Cairns and Port Douglas

admin on April 8th, 2023

On the Great Barrier Reef just off Port Douglas and Cairns, we are blessed with the annual migration of the Dwarf Minke Whales and the giant Humpback Whales as they head from the cold waters of the Southern Antarctic to the warmer waters further North to calve and find a mate.

There is a tight window of opportunity to join a reef trip with a potential whale encounter from Cairns and Port Douglas or join a liveaboard dive trip to see the Dwarf Minke Whales in the Northern Ribbon Reefs of Agincourt off Port Douglas.

The best months to see the whales in Cairns is from June to July for Dwarf Minke Whales, and July to August for the giant Humpback Whales.  The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area provides a safe and protected breeding sanctuary for approximately 30 species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins).   That is approximately 35% of the world’s total living cetacean species.

The Humpback Whales and Dwarf Minke Whales are protected in this coastal area of Australia.  Boats, and other water vessels including kayaks and stand up paddleboards, are not permitted to get too close to these gentle giants, and thankfully there are a raft of whale and dolphin watching regulations that all users of the Great Barrier Reef waters need to abide by for the protection of these majestic marine creatures.

However during the tropical winter months in Cairns, many of the reef boats travelling out to the reef report whale sightings which adds an extra special touch to their passenger’s dive and snorkel tours out on the reef.

There are also a small number of vessels in Port Douglas that have the only permits in the world to allow 10 guests at a time to be in the water with the Dwarf Minke Whales when they swim in the vicinity of the reef sites of the licenced Great Barrier Reef tour operator.

How And When to Book A Whale Watching Tour or Swim With Whales Tour?

First of all, before you book any tours to see whales, or any other living moving animal, you need to be mindful that there is NO GUARANTEE that they are going to show up on the day.

They have a mind of their own and can choose to travel in any direction of preference as they move along on their migration path.

They have other things on their minds the do not include stopping off to entertain humans if you know what we mean!

Dwarf Minke Whale Tour Options -  June to July

There are only 2 Great Barrier Reef day tours that depart out of Port Douglas that travel to 3 reef sites throughout the day that have the permits to swim with the whales.

Liveaboard dive trips, give you extra time out on the reef over a number of days with more time for Minke whale encounter opportunities.  See more about swimming with the Whales Day Trips and Liveaboard trip here.

Another option is to charter this private charter boat, which holds one of the restricted swim with whale permits. This is an exclusive experience for you and your family, or friends to experience a memorable experience on the reef. 

Swim or Dive with Dwarf Minke Whale Tours

Swimming with the Dwarf Minke Whales is an amazing and  different experience to the day tours to go Humpback Whale Watching.

As Port Douglas is only place in the world - the 2 swim with Dwarf Minke Whale Day Tours from Port Douglas allows 10 people at a time to be in the water if a Dwarf Minke Whale is encountered at one of the reef sites the vessel is licenced to visit.  Abiding by strict code of practice, a maximum of two surface ropes will be placed in the water with swimmers then positioned 3 to 4 metres apart.

The Dwarf Minkes are very inquisitive, and find us interesting to look at.  There is no need to chase them, they decide how close they want to interact and swim with us, and quite often their curiosity brings them in very close, up to arm’s length even.

These cute whales are known to spend hours with divers and snorkelers showing off and taking a good close look at us and spy hoping in amongst the folks in the water to the delight of the guests.  They are a not like the Humpback Whales who leap out of the water and come crushing down, they seem to be a very docile inquisitive type of whale.

These particular whales are a new species discovered on the Great Barrier Reef only in the mid 1980’s and there is still little known about them.  The tours have a focus on visiting several reef sites and being in the water to see other amazing corals and marine life under the surface.   Even if you don’t see any Dwarf Minke Whales, you can be assured that you will be able to see other incredible sights on your Great Barrier Reef tour.

The extended liveaboard reef tours offer you further opportunities to swim with the whales, and offer you a choice of 3 - 7 night options which are suitable for divers and snorkellers.

Read more about whale watching and swimming with the Dwarf Minke Whales on the Great Barrier Reef.

10 Interesting Dwarf Minke Whale Facts

  • Dwarf Minke whales are a type of Rorqual whale and are the smallest of the Baleen Whales.
  • Dwarf Minke Whales grow up to between 8 to 9 metres long
  • Females are bigger than the males
  • Dwarf Minke Whales are no different to Minke Whales other than size. Usually up to 8 metres long.
  • Dwarf Minke Whales have two blow holes
  • Dwarf Minke females reproduce every second year. The pregnancy lasts 10 to 11 months.
  • Each pregnancy produces one calf.
  • A newborn Dwarf Minke calf is approximately 2.5 metres long and weighs 450 kg [1000 lb] at birth.
  • Dwarf Minke Whales are less likely to be seen breaching and doing Tail [Fluke] Slaps compared to Humpbacks
  • Dwarf Minke whales can survive up to 50 years in the wild.

10 Interesting Humpback Whale Facts

  • Humpback Whales are the fifth largest animal in the world.
  • Humpback Whales grow up to between 13 to 15 metres
  • Females are bigger than the males
  • They have the largest flipper size compared to all other whales. The length being one third of their body length.
  • Humpbacks have two blow holes
  • A newborn humpback calf is the same length of their mother's head.
  • At birth, calves are approximately 6 metres [20 ft] long and weigh 1800kg [1.81 tons]
  • Humpbacks are acrobatic, breeching their 40 tons completely out of the water.
  • Humpback whale songs are audible for up to 30 km [18.5miles] away.
  • Only the male Humpback Whales Sing

Whale Watching Tours Cairns

Currently there are no dedicated Whale watching day tours from Cairns - however during the whale season on the Cairns Reef tours, you may be fortunate enough to see Humpback Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins and Dwarf Minke Whales; and on occasion the famous albino Humpback called Migaloo!  He is the one that stands out from the rest, and the one that so many whale watchers would love to tick off their list of sightings.  If you wish to swim with the Minke Whales - ensure to book a reef tour that has one of the limited permits! 

Humpbacks are well known to put on a spectacular show near the surface unlike the Minke whales.  Humpbacks can often be seen doing Tail Slaps also known as Fluke Slaps, Breaching and Pectoral Fin slaps. Also, during the Cairns Whale Watching Season, mothers can be seen with their young calves.

The Great Barrier Reef provides them with a safe haven to nurture their young.  The reef tours out of Cairns are guided by a qualified Marine Biologists who presents the passengers with interesting facts and information about the whales’ behaviour and antics. There is so much to learn about these majestic creatures of the ocean. And on these tours you will be treated with an experts knowledge.

You can book any of these whale watching tours online with The Tour Specialists or you can call and speak with our team and they can tell you what to expect when out on these Great Barrier Reef tours.

We do however advise that you book well in advance for the liveaboard dive trips if at all possible as spaces and departures are very limited due the growing popularity of these dedicated whale tours.

We are open 7 days a week and you can speak with us on the telephone or on live chat; call 1300 761 612 or +61 7 4059 5959


Author: Jenni  - Tour Consultant with The Tour Specialists   


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