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Migaloo - the white Humpback whale

Migaloo - the white Humpback whale

Facts

Will you be lucky enough to see Migaloo this year?

Here are some facts about this amazing whale:-

  • First observed on June 28, 1991 off Byron Bay, northern New South Wales.
  • In October 2004, researchers from Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre collected sloughed skin samples from the water after he had breached and were able to have these analysed for DNA.  This analysis was able to confirm that Migaloo is in fact a male.  Researchers have been able to obtain a genetic fingerprint which will allow them to check for his relatives from other samples they have on hand.  Once sloughed skin samples are able to be obtained from a calf, this analysis will be able to confirm whether Migaloo is the father.
  • Was originally called “H2” and later “Lotus”.
  • Is currently known as “Migaloo”, which is the name the Hervery Bay Aboriginal community elders use to describe ‘white fella’.
  • Has not been proven to be albino, although a lot of media reports this to be the case.  At this point in time he is known as a "hypo-pigmented" Humpback whale.
  • Migaloo still bears scars on his back from where he was struck by a trimaran off Townsville, Queensland in 2003
  • Sightings are invaluable as they are able to assist with the East Coast Humpback whale migration patterns.
  • He is part of the East Australian Humpback population which is believed to be approximately 14,000 to 16,000 individual animals as at 2011.  Prior to commercial whaling it is believed that the population was approximately 30,000 diminishing to just above 100 animals when commercial whaling ceased in the 1960s.

Did you know that there are 6 populations in the southern hemisphere which migrate north from the Antarctic during the winter period to mate and give birth in tropical waters?

Water-based whale and dolphin watching guidelines

Water-based whale watching is very popular in New South Wales. Unlike Hervey Bay in Queensland, where whales are resting with new-born calves, most Humpback whales in NSW waters are actively migrating. Any disturbance by vessels has the potential to affect these animals.

Whales require 'personal space', and harassment may severely stress them - possibly causing accidents both for humans and whales if the whales feel threatened. This is especially important in the case of adults with calves, which may be either resting or suckling. Research has shown that whales are highly sensitive to engine noises. You should also be aware that during the mating season, males competing for females may engage in rough physical contact.

Whales are protected animals, and if you go out on the water, you should follow the regulations for whale watching. They've been designed to make whale watching enjoyable and safe, without interference to the whales.

The basic rules when near whales and dolphins are to:

  • Remain quiet and do not try to feed or touch them.
  • Be alert and watch for whales and dolphins at all times.
  • When in a vessel, do not approach closer than 100m to any whale or 50m to any dolphin.
  • The caution zone for vessels is the area within 300m of a whale and 150m of a dolphin. No more than three vessels are allowed within the caution zone at any one time and  vessels should operate at no wake speeds within this zone.
  • Approach whales and dolphins from parallel to and slightly to the rear - not from directly behind or head-on.
  • When leaving whales or dolphins, move off at a slow (no wake) speed to the outer limit of the caution zone (300m) from the closest animal before gradually increasing speed.
  • Keep a lookout and avoid disturbance to mother whales or dolphins and their calves. Mother and calf will be close together and the calves are sometimes difficult to see.
  • If there is a sudden change in whale or dolphin behaviour, move away immediately at a slow steady pace.
  • Whales and dolphins sometimes form social groupings and may approach your vessel - if this happens place the engine in neutral and let the animal(s) come to you; or slow down and continue on course; or steer a straight course away from them.
  • Do not get into the water if you see a whale or dolphin. If you're already in the water do not disturb, chase or block the path of a whale or dolphin and if possible, return to your vessel or the shore.

Migaloo has been given “special status” in both NSW and Queensland, with hefty fines imposed for breaching the approach zones for observing this animal.

In NSW, the approach distances are 500m for a vessel and 600m for jet ski and aircraft.

If you have seen or heard any reports of Migaloo please let us know by either contacting the ORRCA hotline on (02) 9415 3333 or by email.

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