Migaloo White Fella

By Matthew Essex

By Matthew Essex

Salty Swims Co Founder

By Harry Cottrell

By Harry Cottrell

Master Scuba Diver Trainer

I can’t recall a day out on the open ocean that a customer didn’t ask after Migaloo. He’s an extremely rare albino Humpback whale, world famous and a legend in Australia with nature-seekers, industry pros and science buffs striving to see him.

He was first sighted in 1991 off the coast of Byron Bay by a group of volunteers conducting research and has been sighted most years since, often several times, as he journey’s up the east coast to the warm shallow waters inside the Great Barrier Reef. Although unique in his appearance, he appears to go about this journey just like any other male Humpback. He’s been witnessed escorting mothers and calves, displaying his acrobatics on the surface and has been recorded singing. It’s also widely believed that he could be a father too.

The honour of naming him went to the elders in the aboriginal community of Hervey Bay, a small town in southern Queensland considered the whale watching capital of the world. Migaloo loosely means “White Fella”. Up until 2011, he was believed to be the only white whale in existence, when another all-white Humpback calf was spotted. There are now three we know about – Bahloo, Willow & Migaloo Jnr.

I’ve personally never seen an albino whale but in July 2019, I became someone that knew someone that did. Ready to start working the whale season myself, I got a message from a good mate, Harry Cottrell, who was working as a dive instructor up in Port Douglas – He had seen an albino Humpback calf and he was buzzing about it! I’m super jealous of the guy but I feel privileged to be writing this blog with him, as he shares his story of that lucky day.

Migaloo White Fella – A Personal Account

What was the occasion?
It was just another normal day taking guests out to the Great Barrier Reef. I was guiding certified divers and together we had three awesome dives on the Agincourt Reefs. During this time of the year Humpback whales are almost a daily sighting on our journey to and from the reef, so I briefed my customers about our chances of seeing them, and taught them what to look out for and why they visited Port Douglas.

What happened?
It was on the drive home when we first noticed a small whale slapping his tail on the surface of the water. He wasn’t much bigger than a calf and seemed to be on his own. We stopped the boat in the hope that he would come a little bit closer and we could get a better look. As he returned to the surface to breathe, we noticed that it didn’t look like the humpbacks we were used to seeing, and what’s more, the water seemed to glow! It was when he breached, that we knew we were looking at an albino whale. We couldn’t believe it.

What was it like?
They’re one of my favourite animals. For me it was pretty hard to believe at first, I knew how rare albino humpbacks were, so I honestly thought I was seeing things.
The crew and I were undoubtedly the most stoked people there – we love these animals and see them most days during this time of year. We’d certainly never seen anything like it before and our colleagues that worked in the area for thirty years had never seen one either, so we knew how lucky we were.

What did you do after?
Everyone was ecstatic. We cruised on home, said goodbye to our guests, cleaned the boat and went straight to the pub for a cold one. It turned out that a couple other tour boats had seen the white-whale also, so we shared our photos and celebrated how lucky we were together.

Migaloo White Fella – What YOU can do to help

Humpback Whales are protected by the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act Regulations. However, due to Migaloo’s popularity and celebrity status, he was getting harassed and as a result, his livelihood threatened. The paparazzi were becoming very brazen, with one underwater photographer coming into contact with him and an unfortunate trimaran sailor collided with Migaloo, causing severe injury to the whale. In 2003, he was declared of special interest and provided extra protection due to his colour variance. The law demanded he be given a wider birth by boats and aircraft, with any vessel coming within 500 metres being fined $16 500 and this is often enforced by a police escort.

So, if you spot a white whale be sure to keep your distance but there is something that you can do to help.

The White Whale Research Centre was founded to gather information on sightings of all-white whales from people like yourself, to share with universities and research centres. This information is helping researchers to learn about the habits and lives of Humpback whales, which in turn will help us to gain a better understanding of what can be done to help conserve and protect them.

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Go ahead and check out their website where you can find out more about the white whales of Australia, where and when they were sighted and the wonderful organisations, dedicated supporters and skilled photographers that are leading the way. Jonas Liebschner of whalewatchingsydney.com.au is one of those talented photographers celebrated on their website, and he’s been kind enough to send me some of his favourites of Migaloo that you can see featured on this page.

Gallery Courtesy of Jonas Liebschner of Whale Watching Sydney

Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments, we appreciate any feedback you have. You can also join our mailing list below if you like, that way we can make sure that you don’t our next blog. AND, if you have any questions or a positive topic you would like to share just as Harry did, please feel welcome to email me directly at the bottom of the page.

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