The Great White Migaloo

Andrea Francolini © Audi Hamilton Island Race Week images from photographer Andrea Francolini.

Every year, between June and October, a population of approximately 1200 humpback whales cruise past Hamilton Island, on their great migration north. Stay sharp. If you’re lucky, you might sight the almost mythical Migaloo, you can’t miss him, he’s the only known albino humpback whale. And he likes the Whitsundays, these waters are one of his regular haunts.

1. Every year Migaloo migrates 5,000km from Antarctic polar waters up the eastern coast of Australia to mate in the sub-tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkellers rest easy; humpbacks do not feed during mating season, they live off their body fat, or blubber, from June to October.

2. Migaloo once surfaced in front of a trimaran near Townsville. He collided with the boat, lifting it and breaking off its centre keel. The main concern at the time was not for the captain but Migaloo’s wellbeing.

3. Migaloo is one rare mammal, the only all-white humpback recorded, ever, in the 20th and 21st century.

4. Although most whales avoid landmass, humpbacks follow the coastline, which explains why Migaloo was first spotted by whale researcher and Chief Scientist at Pacific Whale Foundation, Greg Kaufman, in 1991 and has since been so visible on the coastline.

5. Fellow Pacific Whale Foundation researcher, Dr Paul Forestell, consulted an Aboriginal elder to help choose a name. The elder explained that albinos are considered to be special beings, “perhaps signs or tokens from the spirit world.” The elder suggested the name “Migaloo” meaning “white fellah” in Aboriginal slang.

6. Migaloo is male. He has been sighted travelling with a mother / calf pod and he has been recorded during mating season, singing. Only male whales sing. Researchers only conclusively confirmed Migaloo’s gender, after a DNA sample was analysed of his sloughed skin.

7. Researchers are unsure of his age however they have speculated that Migaloo is between 21-34 years old.

8. Migaloo is an attention seeker and news desks across the world have helped establish his notoriety within the environmental and passionate whale watching communities. So famous is this white whale that he now enjoys government protection; any person coming within 500m faces a $16,500 fine by either the QLD or NSW governments.

9. It’s not easy being an albino humpback whale. Without the vital melanin and pigment in his albino skin, scientists are concerned that the lack of natural protection from the sun is causing skin cancer and skin cysts on Migaloo.

10. The Pacific Whale Foundation created the official Migaloo website www.migaloowhale.org not only to educate the public, but as a place to share pictures of Migaloo sightings. He also has a twitter account, @Migaloo1, which is a bit of a liberty really when you consider humpbacks are notoriously anti-social.