Can swimming with whales and ocean conservation really go hand in hand? Tracey Croke goes in search of an answer during a close encounter with the ocean goliaths in Queensland, Australia.

“LOOK DOWN!” a voice screams with disbelief.

I quickly scan the bobbing heads around me. The voice belongs to a man a few meters away, whose popped eyeballs are staring at me from the void of his snorkel mask.

I try to decipher my fellow snorkeler’s cartoon-esqe expression. Fear? Excitement? Disbelief? I decide it’s a combination of all three and dunk my face into the ocean.

With heart in throat, I float motionless; a powerless piece of plankton above two bus-sized omnivores. You could park a Volkswagen Beetle on each tongue. My brain auto-uploads the moment into a memory bank labeled ‘mind blown’.