‘Completely weird-looking’: rare all-white whale spotted off the coast of New South Wales

The rare sighting of an all-white humpback whale off the coast of New South Wales has sparked speculation it could be the offspring of beloved albino Migaloo.

Brayden Blake, a 16-year-old teenager, spotted the white whale just off the coast of Fingal Head in north-east NSW while holidaying on Thursday.

“I was out for a paddle and a surf with my friend out the back … I was on my board … then fell in the water and heard this weird singing or screaming noise,” he said.

“It was kind of spooky, so I ran up [on to the beach], and because I do surf life saving I knew the lady working [there] and she was like – ‘turn around, there’s a whale’.

“But it didn’t look like one, it was all white.”

Blake raced back home to grab his personal drone, and when he returned – “there it was” – a white humpback, flapping its tail with a pod of dolphins.

“I’ve seen regular humpback whales before, but this one didn’t look at all the same. Every time it came back for a breath of air, it was white,” Blake said.

Instantly Blake thought of Migaloo, the famous white humpback whale named from an Aboriginal word for “whitefella”, who has captured the imaginations of Australians for decades.

The whale was first photographed passing Byron Bay in June 1991 and was the only documented all-white humpback in the world until 2011, when an all-white calf was filmed.

Years after his first sighting, DNA samples of Migaloo confirmed he was born around 1986. A genetic fingerprint, obtained at the time, allows researchers to check for relatives of Migaloo and whether he is the father to calves.

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“I’ve seen some footage of Migaloo before, and always thought it was cool but never thought about seeing one in real life because they’re so rare, chances are very low,” Blake said.

“Where I was on Fingal Head – it’s not a crowded beach area, so it was just me, lifeguards and a couple of bystanders. As soon as I saw it, I got some of my friends to come down and have a look and they were like – ‘wow, once in a lifetime’.”

Blake said the figure had the same shape as a regular humpback whale, with a grey tail and grey dorsal fins. But it was slightly smaller than usual, which got him thinking it may be an offspring of Migaloo.

In total, he and his mates spent 20 minutes watching the white whale dance in the water – flapping its tail before diving deep and spinning into the air.

“It was really cool to see, very special,” he said.

Dr Vanessa Pirotta, a wildlife scientist, said she was sure the whale wasn’t Migaloo, as while it was completely white underneath the top of its tail was a normal colouring, and it was smaller.

“I don’t know what’s happened to it,” she said. “It makes me think it’s not albino … we do see variation in the appearances of humpback whales on the east coast, some might appear to have more colouration than others, while some may appear to be more white.

“But it’s very exciting, and the animal is very playful with the dolphins.”

Pirotta also reasoned that, with more than 40,000 humpback whales in the sea, it would be tricky to tell simply by looking at it whether it were a relative of Migaloo.

But she agreed it was a “completely weird-looking whale”.

“I’ve been watching whales for many years, and I’ve not seen a whale that looks like that other than Migaloo,” she said.

“This is a great opportunity for us to learn more about this population – especially as it’s the start of the migration period.”

As for the whale’s fate? The last time Blake saw it, the humpback was headed up north, towards the Gold Coast. Perhaps in search of its mate.

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