White humpback whale returns to Oz
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White humpback whale returns to Oz

It sounds like a fairy tale: A rare ghost-white king of a once-dying race returning with a child heir to lead his kind into a new golden age.

Of course none of that is exactly true. Migaloo, a male white humpback whale, was once thought to be the only white example of his species. Now he’s been spotted off the coast of Australia after spending the summer in Antarctica. The humpback whale’s migratory path will eventually bring him to the Coral Sea.

But this time he’s not alone. There is another white humpback with him. First spotted in 2011, this juvenile could be an offspring of Migaloo, though experts believe that there’s no cause to romanticize their possible relationship and that we shouldn’t refer to them as albinos either.

From the Guardian:

It’s more likely that he’s extremely piebald. Whales are naturally black and white, he’s just a bit more white than other whales.

Humpbacks aren’t the most paternal animals. He won’t be looking after the younger one. He’ll be chasing girls. His purpose is to sow his seed at the moment.

–Ronny Ling, Organization for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia

Though humpbacks were nearly wiped out by commercial whaling, since the practice has been banned their numbers have rebounded significantly. They are now officially considered a species of “least concern” in terms of conservation status. Humpbacks are still vulnerable to collisions with ships, noise pollution (such as oceanic sub-bottom blasting) and poisoning from contaminated mackerel.

Though the whale-watching world is naturally abuzz at the recent sightings of Migaloo, Australia has strict policies in place to protect the whales from even unintentional interference by spectators.

From Discovery News:

All humpback whales are protected from harassment in Australian waters. Whalewatching vessels must approach at no faster than 6 knots when within 300 meters of an adult humpback, and vessels are prohibited from approaching closer than 100 meters to adults, or 300 meters if a calf is present. Because of his unique status, Migaloo is granted an additional layer of protection: No water craft, including jet skis, may approach closer than 500 meters, and aircraft must remain 2,000 meters or more above him. Violating those rules is subject to a fine of more than US $15,300. It remains to be seen if MJ will receive similar protection.

For an online news feed of all things Migaloo-related check out migaloowhale.org, which also has plenty of photos of the white giant. What are you gonna do when Migaloo-mania runs wild on you?


A sign? Two "normal" humpbacks await their savior in NSW. Pic: Jcdubya (Flickr CC)