Brought to you by Newscorp Australia

Virtual reality brings the Great Barrier Reef’s dwarf minke whales to the world

Tamsin Rose, July 17, 2017 10:58AM Herald Sun

Print Article

Swimming with dwarf minke whales in Queensland's Great Barrier Reef. Picture: Dr Dean Miller media_cameraSwimming with dwarf minke whales in Queensland's Great Barrier Reef. Picture: Dr Dean Miller


Reading level: orange

SWIMMING with whales is on many tourists’ Great Barrier Reef to-do lists, but the short season and remote location of the mammals means many miss out — until now.

Virtual reality* (VR) technology is allowing anyone around the world to experience the antics* of the friendly dwarf minke whales through a YouTube video. When viewing on a phone or tablet watchers can move the screen around, like they would look underwater with goggles, to get a 360-degree view.

The large mammals* congregate* around the northern Australian coast for just six weeks each year so only a few hundred visitors get the chance to see them in their habitat.

Four dwarf minke whales have been tagged near Lizard Island and will be tracked in a world first pilot study by a collaboration of Australian and international scientists. CREDIT: Dr Matt Curnock media_cameraA dwarf minke whale swimming. Picture: Dr Matt Curnock

The Great Barrier Reef is the only spot in the world scientists know they can predict an annual gathering of the whales.

Marine scientist and filmmaker in charge of the project, Dr Dean Miller, wanted more people to experience the wonder of the whales he has spent so much time with.

Two weeks ago he took a VR camera into the water and captured the experience for the whole world to enjoy.

“It’s the curious nature of the minke whales that make this experience so rare and sets it apart from other whale encounters*,” Dr Miller said.

“Dwarf minke whales are considered the friendliest animals on the planet. It is something everybody should experience. It will change your life forever.”

James Cook University scientist Dr Alastair Birtles said the whales were curious about humans.

“There is no other wildlife interaction that lasts as long, where the animals come as close, and it’s absolutely up to the animals themselves,” Dr Birtles said.

“There’s no inducement*; they’re not fed in any way. They just come in because they are so extraordinarily curious about us.”

Janelle Toby recently swum with the whales and said their friendly nature made an impression on her.

“The best thing about it is that they are coming towards you,” she said.

“You are just out there floating in the ocean and they are choosing to hang out. It’s great.”

Money from the tourism operations support the Minke Whale Research Project and swimmers are encouraged to share their photos and videos with the scientists to assist them in long-term studies.

Humpback whales off Townsville Humpback whales off Townsville Humpback whales off Townsville Humpback whales off Townsville Picture Shawnee Rickman media_cameraA humpback whale near Townsville. Picture: Shawnee Rickman

The first sightings of the dwarf minke whales indicates the start to the five-month whale watching season along Queensland’s east coast.

Humpback whales are the most popular to watch as they migrate* to the warmer Queensland waters between June and November.

The video is available on youtube:


virtual reality: computer-generated version of the real world

antics: behaviours

mammals: type of warm-blooded animals

congregate: meet and hang out

encounters: meetings

migrate: move from one place to another in accordance with the seasons



Activity 1. Describing dwarf minke whales

Read the article and watch the virtual reality video of dwarf minke whales.

Write a detailed description of the whales with as much information as you can.
Your description might include their appearance, the way they move, their behaviour or any other detail you can gather from the article and video.
A person reading your description should be able to visualise the whales without seeing the video.


Consider the music that has been chosen to accompany the virtual reality video. How does it make you feel and why? If you were to choose an alternative musical accompaniment for the video describe what it would sound like and the instruments that would be used.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Music

Activity 2. Why video the whales?

The article explains some reasons why Dr Miller decided to create a virtual reality video of the dwarf minke whales and some of the benefits that will come from having done so.

Write down three of these reasons or benefits.


Research dwarf minke whales and write down three facts about them that are not already mentioned in the article.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Science


(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers and Punctuation)

VCOP links to classroom activities:

Activity 1: Describing dwarf minke whales

For students completing classroom activity 1, integrate VCOP elements to enhance your writing.
Focus on vocabulary to create imagery and connectives to extend out your descriptions further.

Activity 2. Why video the whales?

After reading the article and conducting your research, do you still have any unanswered questions unanswered? What are they?

Come up will three questions for a partner to research about the whales.
Remember your question marks at the end of each question.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Big Write and VCOP







Extra Reading in technology