A baby white whale has been spotted off Lennox Head on the New South Wales far north coast.
Ballina man Kynan Wall saw what appears to be an albino humpback calf while he was paragliding near Lennox Head on the weekend.
He said it was a special experience.
“We see whales a lot when we’re flying along there but I’ve never seen a whale calf that was that pale or even that small,” Mr Wall said.
“So it was obviously a very new whale and quite a special thing to see.
“I was pretty excited too; I got a few photos and a bit of video as well.”
Director of Southern Cross University’s Marine Ecology Research Centre, Peter Harrison, said it was an “unusual” find.
“We estimate that the population of migrating whales along the east coast of Australia this year will be something around 33,000,” Professor Harrison said.
“But relatively few of them are all white.”
Has Migaloo been breeding? Professor Harrison said a lack of pigment was usually associated with albinism — a recessive gene carried by both the mother and father.
He said it was impossible to tell without further testing, whether the father was famed white-whale Migaloo.
“The only way you could find that out is to look at the genetics and compare it to Migaloo,” he said.
Unfortunately, the genetics that make this calf unusual, also make it vulnerable.
“Young white whales can be produced, but the chance of them surviving is reduced compared with other humpback calves,” Professor Harrison said.
“If the individuals can survive, sometimes their reproduction can be compromised as well.”
White colouring makes calf easy target for predators
It is a concern shared by Sea World’s Acting Head of Marine Science, Marnie Horton.
Ms Horton said the lack of camouflage made the calf more susceptible to predation.
“Generally the animals are counter-shaded, so they have white on their bellies and then a dark colour on their backs,” she said.
“A predator looking up from bottom would see a light belly on a bright sky, and a predator looking down from above would see a dark back on a dark ocean floor.
“So it does make this animal much more visual … and more at risk of predation.”
Could there be more white whales to come?
Ms Horton said it was not Australia’s first all-white calf, and hopefully would not be the last.
“It is very rare — I think this is only the third one in Australian waters that we’ve seen,” she said.
“There’s been Migaloo who’s been around for many years now, and then a smaller animal that was affectionately named ‘son of Migaloo’.
“And then this new calf.”
Ms Horton said the number of humpback whales on the east coast was increasing by about 10% each year.
“It’s quite possible that we might see more and more of these individuals that are a little bit different from the rest.