It approaches from deep within the Coral Sea, 20 feet of steel grey torpedo-shaped flesh that sends shivers through the gaggle of snorkelers peering down from the surface.
A great white shark?
Nope. The elusive minke whale and we have leaped off a dive boat far out in Australia's Great Barrier Reef to swim with them.
Much to the consternation of environmentalists, human interaction with whales is a noticeable tourism trend around the world. And while Australian authorities don't want to deny visitors the opportunity to witness these majestic creatures, they also want to ensure it is done right.
The number of boats allowed out at any time is strictly regulated, as are the companies licensed to do so. The number of swimmers in the water is restricted and they are spaced about five feet apart, allowing the naturally inquisitive mammals to choose who -- or if -- they approach. Touching and photographing the animals is prohibited.
Minke whales are gentle giants only recently seen to be congregating in certain parts of Australia's outer reefs during the summer months, whether for feeding or breeding or simply migration.
Once spotted, engines are silenced and a dozen swimmers hustle to leap into the clear, warm water, latching on to a throw rope tossed out ahead.
One especially curious whale ventures hesitatatingly to within six feet before turning away -- in the process granting visitors the adventure of a lifetime.