Ask a Scientist: What if I want to swim with...Whales?


-Enter the water calmly and observe their behaviour. Is it calm you may approach a bit further. However, avoid being too close as some species, such as humpback whales, show an active surface behaviour and you don’t want to get hit by a flipper or a fluke…When you are attached to a mermaid line, for instance when you want to encounter dwarf minke whales in Great Barrier Reef, wait until the animal gets to you. Be careful with sperm whales since they are known for their prolonged dives. If they start to dive and you are too close, it may become very dangerous for you as they may drag you down with them…(I’m speaking of experience here…my first encounter with sperm whales was way too close and I put myself, unknowingly, in severe health risk. Rookie mistake!).

-Do not approach too close when calves are present, which is often the case when you encounter baleen whales in the tropics as these regions are used as calving and nursing grounds. You’re a novel object to juvenile whales and play behaviour may put you at health risk. Further, mom may not be too happy about you approaching her calf, so always keep that in mind and take your distance.

-Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings at any time so you won’t be surprised by emerging baleens. This is especially important in colder regions where the animals are feeding. Here, daylight hours are often short and visibility may be limited. Baleen whales do not possess echolocation like toothed whales so we cannot rely on them that they will notice us first.

-The best way to enjoy these types of encounters: Lie on the surface and enjoy! You are sharing the same environment with these magnificent animals that are one of the largest planet Earth has to offer!


Taking pictures while experiencing animals at short range is very popular and it’s a great way to take some memories back home. For this, please make sure your flash is turned off at any times as it may startle the animal.