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Rare Albino Whale Migaloo Returns to Australian Coast

Jun 19, 2014 11:44 PM EDT
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A rare albino whale, the famous Migaloo, was spotted for the first time this year off the Australian coast on Tuesday.

One of the rarest sea creatures, this white humpback whale was travelling with at least four other whales from the Australian East Coast Humpback whale population as part of their seasonal migration to warmer waters.

Migaloo, whose name means "white fella," was seen off the coast of Eden on Wednesday, and then Cronulla, south of Sydney, on Thursday afternoon, The Guardian reported.

This is the 23rd consecutive year Migaloo has appeared off the eastern seaboard, his first being in 1991 when he was sighted by marine biologist Dan Burns off the coast off Byron Bay. According to the Daily Mail, by Friday he will have made his way north of Newcastle, before reaching Queensland at the end of the month.

Whale watcher Oskar Peterson, from the White Whale Research Centre, was the one lucky enough to spot Migaloo.

"There were a couple of years after 1991 when we didn't see him at all, and there's been a couple of years when he goes missing in action," he told The Guardian. "He glows, you can't really miss him when you do see him out there from a distance, and it's like fluorescent blue when you see him up close."

Migaloo was first thought to be one of a kind, but in 2011 whale watchers discovered another all-white humpback, a calf, and named him Migaloo Junior, according to Fox News.

This time each year, some 15,000 humpbacks migrate towards Queensland's more tropical waters - a spectacle many watch from their boats to get an up-close look. But, The Guardian reports, there are strict rules in place preventing people from getting too close - they have to be farther than 300 meters from the whales.

But Migaloo, whose age is unknown (humpbacks can live up to 80 years old), has "special status." Watchers must stay at least 500 meters away - 600 meters for aircraft and jetskis - and there are heavy fines for breaching the laws.

"He's going to be around for a few generations," Peterson said. "He's been a bit of an ambassador for the whale watching tourism."

Peterson's organization has tracked and accumulated information about Migaloo over the years, and hopes to raise awareness about the threats to whale populations and their surroundings.

Since the whale's sighting, their Twitter account has gained several hundred followers from all over the world.

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