You may have swum with dolphins or sea turtles but swimming with dwarf minke whales – the gentle giants of the sea – is a truly extraordinary experience.

Despite the name, dwarf minke whales grow up to eight metres and weigh several tonnes – but their grace under water defies their size. Pods of up to two dozen of these unique whales pass through the warm waters at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef for a few weeks each winter. Exceptionally inquisitive, small groups are often happy to swim alongside humans for up to an hour.

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Australian diving legend Mike Ball’s eponymous company has been leading expeditions to the Outer Barrier Reef to swim with minke whales since 1996. The voyages range from three to seven nights on his 30-metre vessel. With success rates on these live-aboard trips hitting 98 per cent, you’re almost certain to find yourself floating among these graceful creatures. Each passenger can also take part in minke whale research, attend lectures on the ecology of the reef and quiz onboard research volunteers.

Another operation, Eye to Eye Marine Encounters, is run by a former commercial fisherman and offers four- to eight-day dive trips with just seven guests on a luxury motor yacht. It has a licence that allows it to have no fixed itinerary, which means it can adapt to weather conditions and follow whale sightings. It also includes night dives and educational talks.

SEE ALSO: Explore our full guide to the Great Barrier Reef

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