The Return of Migaloo, the Albino Humpback Whale and Friends to Waters off Australia

by Carolyn Sotka

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Migaloo. Photo from My Modern Net

Excitement is building along the eastern coast of Australia as whale watchers anxiously await the return of Migaloo, the all white humpback whale, made famous in 2004 when he was first spotted off Byron Bay.

Migaloo, thought to be the only albino humpback in the world, was joined by a white humpback calf spotted swimming alongside his/her mother in 2011. Given that albinism is an inherited trait, the calf is speculated to be Migaloo’s offspring and aptly named Migaloo Junior or MJ.

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Mother with normal pigmentation with MJ an albino calf. Photo credit: White Whale Research Centre.

Since then, another albino calf has been identified to make a grand total of three white humpbacks among the 20,000 that migrate north to breed in the warm waters of Queensland, Australia. Sightings also include one albino humpback off Western Australia and one in Norway.

Migaloo means ‘while fella’ in the Aboriginal language. Since they are easy to spot, Migaloo and friends (or kids?) have become celebrities and conservation ambassadors. Thousands track their progress during the migration. Humpbacks can live up 50 years but the cost of alibinism may play out by making the whales more susceptible to predators, less able to absorb heat in colder waters, and impaired visual communication.

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Illustrations from Moby-Dick, published in 1851 and authored by Herman Melville.

While the classic Herman Melville tale of Moby Dick persists with well-documented reports of white sperm whales; it is extremely rare expression in humpbacks—thus the low numbers. Moby Dick was based on a real sperm whale that lived off Mocha Island in Chile and is said to have fought over 100 whaling attempts before succumbing to the kill. Let’s hope these few albino humpbacks do not become more visible targets for whalers today but instead continue to grow in numbers in the coming future.

-CS

 

 

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