Code of Practice & SWW Endorsed Operators

Dwarf minke whale interactions in the GBRWHA

This Code of Practice outlines the environmentally responsible way to interact with dwarf minke whales. Protocols for divers and snorkellers swimming with dwarf minke whales are designed to minimise potential negative impacts on the whales, and at the same time, maximise the positive experience for the human participants. These protocols were developed based on studies by the Minke Whale Project research team, working in collaboration with the dive tourism industry since 1996.

The full Code of Practice contains detailed protocols for vessel skippers and crew, as well as protocols for snorkellers and divers. Below is a summary of protocols for snorkellers and divers.

Protocols for snorkellers and divers:

  1. Follow instructions from vessel crew at all times.
  2. Passengers and crew of swimming-with-whales endorsed tourism operators must not enter the water closer than 30m to a dwarf minke whale. (Note that for vessels not endorsed for swimming-with-whales, this distance now set at 100m.)
  3. Snorkelling (using a mask, snorkel, fins and wetsuit, without a weight-belt) rather than scuba diving is recommended. (Note that weight belts can work loose in rough conditions and have been observed to detach and fall onto a whale.)
  4. If whales approach during a scuba dive, the dive should continue as usual, including a safety stop on return to the vessel. SCUBA divers approached by a whale should hold on to a safety chain/bar or mooring line when available. Divers must never swim directly at a whale.
  5. Enter the water calmly and with minimal noise to reduce potential disturbance to whales.
  6. Never swim closer than 30 metres towards a whale.
  7. If a whale approaches a person in the water, they must move slowly to avoid startling the whale.
  8. Do not touch or make physical contact with a whale.
  9. When surface ropes/safety lines are deployed from the vessel, swimmers should hold onto a line at all times.
  10. Snorkellers should space themselves three to four metres apart along the line to avoid bumping into each other and unnecessary kicking/splashing.
  11. Snorkellers should remain in contact with crew on board the vessel in case the crew needs to recall the swimmers to the boat.
  12. Natural light only must be used for photography (i.e. no flashes/strobes or video lights). Dwarf minke whales have large eyes that may be adapted for low light levels and they may be startled by camera flashes. The natural light near the surface is sufficient for capturing a high quality image.
  13. If whales display signs of disturbance, swimmers must exit the water

Why you must not touch a whale:

  1. It is illegal to touch a whale.
  2. You might startle the animal and put yourself at risk of injury (remember these are very large and powerful wild animals). A startled whale could also injure itself (e.g. by becoming entangled in a rope).
  3. There is the potential for disease transmission (from human to whale and vice versa).
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