On June 19th, a group of animal lovers on a whale watching cruise off the coast of Sydney, were treated to a rare sight - a pod of mammals that included Migaloo, the world's first documented white humpback whale. The gorgeous 55-ton all-white humpback, was sighted with five other whales as they made their annual migration from the Antarctica to the breeding areas off Queensland and Western Australia.
Migaloo, which means 'White Fella' in the indigenous Australian language, was first spotted off Australia's Byron Bay in 1991. Not surprisingly, he became an instant local darling and was immediately elevated to the status of 'special interest whale'. This means that boats and jet-skis have to keep a distance of at least 500 meters, while airplanes have to be more than 2,000 meters away from the mammal. Anybody caught violating this rule is subject to a fine exceeding $12,500 AUD. Over the years, Migaloo's fans have also built several websites dedicated to his every move and even set up an active Facebook page and Twitter account in his honor.
Even though fans keep their eyes peeled for this white whale every year, they are not always successful in spotting the elusive mammal. That's because though Migaloo follows roughly the same migration path up and down the east coast of Australia, there are many years when he manages to sneak away, without being seen.
While experts believe that Migaloo's color is caused by a genetic skin condition called albinism, they have been unable to confirm it with scientific evidence. They therefore refer to him as a 'hypo-pigmented' humpback. They are also not sure how old he is. Oskar Peterson from Australia's White Whale Research Center speculates that he may be the same white whale the center received notification of, in 1988. If true, it would mean that Migaloo is 26-years-old. Given that the mammals can live up to 80 years, the stunning white humpback will continue to delight his fans for many years.
Though Migaloo was the first white humpback whale ever documented, he is not the only one. In September 2011, Alan Fewings and his family reported seeing a white calf amongst a pod of migrating whales, near Cid Harbor off the coast of North Queensland. Experts think that the two may be related, but given that Migaloo junior has not been seen since, they have been unable to confirm that.
Humpback whales, who get their name from the distinctive humps on their body belong to the family of baleen whales, which includes the world's largest mammal, the blue whale. Though they may not be the biggest, humpback adults do get to an impressive 39-52 feet in length and over 79,000 pounds in weight. The whales typically do most of their feeding during the summer months when they are in the polar regions and spend the winters living off the fat, as they migrate about 3,000 miles to their tropical breeding grounds.
Resources: news.yahoo.com,independent.co.uk,the guardian.com