On 28th June, 1991, an all-white humpback whale was photographed passing Byron Bay, Australia’s most easterly point.
This unusual whale was, at that time, the only documented all-white humpback whale in the world. It was named “Migaloo”, which is the name the Australian Aboriginal community in Queeensland use to describe a "White Fella".
Researchers from Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre were able to collect sloughed skin samples from Migaloo in October 2004 when he breached. Small pieces of skin fell into the water and were collected and analysed for DNA. From this it was confirmed that Migaloo is a male, believed to have been born in 1986. A genetic fingerprint for Migaloo was also obtained, allowing researchers to check for relatives of Migaloo amongst the other whales they have samples from, as well as to check whether Migaloo is the father if they obtain skin from a calf.
Migaloo is suspected to be an albino whale, but without definitive evidence for the moment he is known as a “hypo-pigmented” humpback.
Sightings of Migaloo provide valuable insight into the migratory behaviour of humpback whales along the east coast of Australia. For example, Migaloo has been sighted numerous times in consecutive years with the same male humpback whale known as "Milo". Milo can be recognised by his unique pigmentation pattern, and before this, it was not known that humpback males travelled with companions throughout their migrations.
Migaloo is part of the east Australian humpback population, now suspected to number around 15-17,000 individuals in 2012. This population was likely around 30,000 before commercial whaling began, but was possibly as low as 104 individuals after commercial whaling on humpbacks ceased in the 1960s.
This population is one of six in the southern hemisphere that migrate north from Antarctica each year to give birth in tropical waters.
Whale watching guidelines exist to protect humpback whales in Australian waters. These include slow approach speeds (6 knots) when within 300m of an adult humpback, and vessels are prohibited from approaching closer than 100m of adults, or 300m if a calf is present. The full regulations and guidelines can be found at: The Australian Department of the Environment and Water Resources .
Because Migaloo is such a unique whale he has special Queensland & Commonwealth Government legislation that is enacted each year to protect him from harassment. For this reason all vessels including jet-skis are prohibited from approaching within 500m of Migaloo and aircraft cannot be lower then 2000 feet. The fine for breaching this law is $16,500.